Can the EU’s Green Deal elevate the emerging nature restoration industry?

Frankly Speaking

Climate, Energy & Sustainability

Picture of Wietse van der Werf
Wietse van der Werf

Founder & CEO of Sea Ranger Service and 2020-2021 European Young Leader (EYL40)

The growing Green Deal legislative agenda marks a breakthrough for the European environment. As part of this, the European Commission is expected to announce new biodiversity restoration laws this year. Once introduced, the new legislation will put – for the first time – legally binding targets on members states to restore nature both on land and at sea. Restoring biodiversity is a nature-based climate solution as it enhances natural carbon capture and mitigates the worst impacts of natural disasters. The new restoration targets would pave the way for large-scale environmental regeneration and conservation, while also breathing life into an emerging business sector.

A growing number of budding entrepreneurs are establishing start-up companies focused on environmental regeneration. Corporations increasingly look beyond carbon offsetting towards financing direct landscape restoration to boost their corporate identity and share awareness for a better future. These developments, together with the anticipated requirements for nations to get serious about restoration at scale, are creating new market incentives for young companies that are in the business of restoring nature.

Project Seagrass, founded in 2013 by a small group of marine biologists, has achieved ground-breaking results in restoring seagrass along the UK coast. From training volunteers to now having grown an international team, the success of their restoration methodology is being replicated to scale up seagrass conservation. Bahamas-based Coral Vita similarly restores coral reefs and won last year’s prestigious Earthshot Prize, issued by Prince William, in recognition of the viability of the Coral Vita model to also be scaled internationally. The fact that such new companies follow traditional business scaling plans allows for capital that is typically unavailable to environmental NGOs to finance large-scale impact.

It is one thing to embed nature restoration in policy; it is another to implement it successfully

Commonland, founded in 2013, achieves biodiversity restoration and social outcomes that go hand in hand with building regenerative agriculture businesses. Now working across four continents, it offers its investors not just financial returns but social and ecological returns too. The Sea Ranger Service, a Dutch social company, takes franchising – a traditional business scaling model – and applies it to ocean conservation. It trains young people as sea rangers and deploys them to assist government agencies in managing protected ocean areas.

Today the Sea Ranger Service launched a new franchising programme and welcomes interested entrepreneurs to join the so-called Sea Ranger Academy to undergo training on how to establish and run their own sea ranger service franchise, which includes a focus on underwater biodiversity restoration.

When commercial methods are repurposed in this way and business efficiency is applied to benefit nature and the local blue economy, the potential for large-scale environmental conservation initiatives across Europe is magnified. The knock-on effect of ‘social sustainability’, which has underpinned European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmerman’s Green Deal agenda, creates the jobs necessary for a green transition in the communities that most benefit. However, it is one thing to embed nature restoration in policy; it is another to implement it successfully and make it work in practice. Training young people in green jobs and providing employment opportunities is key to achieving the social economic impact that the European Green Deal promises.

It’s essential to create a unique business ecosystem that attracts young talent to choose sustainable careers

Whilst the growth of this new nature restoration industry gathers momentum, the EU can do more to support young entrepreneurs in starting up restoration firms. Where NGOs have traditionally pushed for changes in legislation, these emerging businesses are a different breed. They are solely focused on the execution of financially sustainable and impactful restoration models. The EU has a role to play in helping elevate such businesses. Coaching and high-risk seed financing, for example, could be directed to specifically support budding entrepreneurs, champion their work and inspire other young professionals to follow their example.

It’s essential to create a unique business ecosystem that attracts young talent to choose sustainable careers. For the generation currently entering the workforce, working with purpose is a must and encouraging young people to choose a nature conservation career gives them an avenue to apply their skills towards achieving positive impact for the planet and for a better world. What a remarkable feat it would be if the next generation of professionals disrupted business as usual and instead applied their talents to repairing our planet, all while building a thriving new green industry in the process.

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