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Nature Markets

Cecil in Action: Why Rory Oxenham backs data-driven nature markets

By Tech in Action

It was 2019 and Australia was burning. As fire claimed the lives of people and animals, Rory Oxenham made a decision. He dedicated his career to tackling the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. This wildfire disaster, now known as Black Summer, was a catalyst. It spurred Rory and his colleague Alex Logan to quit their jobs to found a new venture: Cecil. Committed to driving high integrity nature markets, Cecil works to combine complex data sources and provide more accurate insights to market participants.

Can you introduce yourself and explain why you decided to found Cecil?

My life changed when I moved to Australia in 2015. I joined a clean tech startup with a mission to make residential battery storage and solar energy more accessible to rural Australian communities. Whilst it was here that my commitment to climate action took off, it would be another two years before I would meet my future co-founder. 

I met Alex Logan whilst working for the corporate venturing arm of Boston Consulting Group in Sydney, Australia. Here, we built and launched data-driven businesses for some of the most influential corporations in the world, spanning from insurance to agri-businesses. I’m not sure if either of us fully appreciated the severity of the climate crisis until it arrived on our doorstep in 2019. Catastrophic bushfires destroyed homes and natural ecosystems throughout Australia, claiming the lives of over three billion animals in the process. This tragedy sparked a joint decision; we would dedicate our careers to protecting, conserving and restoring the natural world.

Could you say more on the problem you seek to solve?

Globally, there is a nature financing gap of more than US $700 billion. If we are to close this by 2030, it is essential we establish high-integrity nature markets. As nature-related claims underpin these markets, we believe these should be both backed by high integrity data and grounded in transparency.

However, at the moment, organisations investing in nature or assessing nature-related risks are struggling to tackle three, core data challenges:

  1. Inadequate data management systems
  2. Combining complex data sources
  3. Keeping up with nature-related reporting requirements

Inadequate data management systems

Access to accurate and comprehensive data is critical for teams operating in nature markets. However, these organisations are currently cobbling disparate data sources using ad-hoc and non-scalable management systems. This inevitably leads to information silos, data gaps and versioning issues – problems only made worse as data volumes increase overtime. What’s more, manual methods of merging and validating environmental, financial, and operational datasets are time consuming and error prone. This leaves organisations unable to reveal the necessary insights to support decision making and drive impact. 

Difficulties combining data sources

The rapid rise of machine-generated data sources, from satellites in the sky to sensors in the canopy of rainforests, has unlocked new opportunities for organisations investing in natural assets to measure and verify natural capital stocks. However, datasets in both public and private spheres contain inconsistent data formats that require manual extraction or manipulation before they are ready to be analysed. This leaves organisations unable to leverage the full value of comprehensive data sources and struggling to hire specialised in-house expertise to make sense of the information. Ultimately, such inconsistencies limit the number of much-needed nature market participants.

Complex nature-related reporting requirements

Nature markets are undergoing a massive transition. From emerging biodiversity markets to nature-related financial disclosures, the reporting requirements are rapidly changing. We are seeing an increasing level of expected transparency and integrity of underlying data upon which claims are based. 

As a result, organisations operating in nature markets are responding to changing regulatory landscape and building capacity to comply with complex reporting standards. However, in the absence of high integrity data, the challenge for organisations to keep up is overwhelming. Teams are left unable to scale their impact at a pace proportionate to the urgency of the dual crises we face. 

Let’s get technical: How does your product work?

Cecil is focused on solving the data problem for organisations operating in nature markets today. Cecil’s cloud-based data infrastructure is secure and scalable, enabling teams to leverage the full potential of nature-specific technology and the data it unlocks.

Teams use Cecil’s data platform to: 

Connect: Automatically ingest data with built-in integrations

The proliferation of machine-generated data sources has dramatically increased the breadth and depth of information available to investors in natural assets. Cecil supports the automated ingestion of structured environmental, geospatial and investment data through API integrations. Nature-specific data sources can fall under the following categories:

  • Public registries: IHS Markit, Verra, and Plan Vivo
  • Market intelligence data providers: Trove Research, Allied Offsets, and Viridios
  • Publicly available datasets: Global Forest Watch
  • Geospatial mapping tools: ArcGIS, QGIS and the Landapp
  • Existing or emerging digital monitoring, reporting, and verification technologies: Downforce technologies
  • Standards and VBBs: Woodland and Peatland Carbon Codes

Organise: Consolidate data systems into a single source of truth

Through working with leading global nature investors, Cecil has developed a nuanced capability for organising data in this domain. Cecil’s data models structure project/asset level data logically, so that normalised data can be monitored, transformed and analysed. This enables Cecil to represent the complexity of natural systems by layering and drawing relationships between datasets over time. Cecil’s data models also provide a foundation for combining first party data with external data sources such as emerging digital MRV technologies, industry databases and other government datasets.

Monitor: Improve data quality in near real-time

When it comes to monitoring, Cecil can identify and confirm inaccuracies in the ingested data by performing data validation and establishing best practices for data modelling. Equipped with pre-defined specifications, we make sure the inputted data conforms. If an inaccuracy is flagged, it will be automatically resolved by the system or reviewed by a member of the Cecil team. 

Share: Deliver valuable insights to investors, partners and regulatory bodies

Teams operating in nature markets must transparently communicate the integrity of their assets to investors, partners and regulatory bodies. By helping teams establish a strong foundation of valid, analysis ready data, Cecil unlocks the ability to share granular insights with all stakeholders via destinations such business intelligence dashboards or private reporting portals and websites.

Can you share a story of success?

We are privileged to collaborate with forward-thinking teams who are driving impact within emerging nature markets. One inspiring example is Foresight Sustainable Forestry Company (FSF), a publicly-listed company dedicated to investing in sustainably managed forestry and afforestation (new woodland creation) assets in the UK. FSF was awarded the Green Economy Mark by the London Stock Exchange at the time of its IPO, and manages its fund in alignment with Article 9 of the EU SFDR (which requires it to pro-actively set and monitor progress against sustainability objectives).

Cecil has helped FSF establish a robust data management system capable of seamlessly connecting operational, financial, carbon, and biodiversity data collected across their ever-expanding portfolio of assets. By centralising data managed by FSF’s portfolio management team and its contracted forest managers, ecologists, and ad-hoc service providers in one place, Cecil can implement stringent data validation checks that improve data quality over time. Transforming nature-related datasets into meaningful metrics to streamline FSF’s reporting processes is another key focus, driving transparency and trust with FSF’s internal and external network of stakeholders.

Cecil has demonstrated the positive impact of establishing a solid data foundation at FSF. We’re thrilled to be playing a small but important role in supporting their mission to make a meaningful difference in the world of sustainable forestry and beyond.

Finally, what’s next for cecil?

At Cecil, we are closely following emerging trends emerging for nature markets. Encouragingly, nature appears to be rising up the global agenda.

We have seen the EU’s directive on deforestation free products  and the UK’s mandating of biodiversity net gain for development and infrastructure projects. We’ve also seen significant progress with industry driven initiatives, including the first release of Science Based Targets for Nature and the final recommendation from the Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures. Furthermore, 140 financial institutions have now signed the Finance for Biodiversity Pledge, committing to the protection and restoration of biodiversity through their financial activities and investments. Going forward, we expect high integrity data to play a key part in driving these initiatives.

We’re also tracking how new innovations such as eDNA and bioacoustics are unlocking scalable new ways to track biodiversity. Organisations operating in nature markets are leveraging this opportunity to digitise existing datasets which, when paired with modern data models, can unlock new insights into the historic and forecasted health of natural assets. We believe that this trend will continue to increase the volume of data flowing through nature markets, rapidly reduce the costs to measure nature and, ultimately, transform how natural assets are financed.


Disclaimer: Cecil has worked with Respira International. Read more about Cecil here.