Building the Business Case for Nature-Based Solutions: The NBS Benefits Explorer Tool
The NBS Benefits Explorer was launched on 9 September 2021 and is a collaborative effort between the CEO Water Mandate, Pacific Institute, Danone, The Nature Conservancy, and LimnoTech. This tool was developed to serve as a key starting point for companies and organizations looking to invest in nature-based solutions (NBS), and for those wishing to learn more about benefit identification and accounting.
The dynamic tool adopts a practical method developed by the project team to aid in NBS benefit identification and can be used across multiple habitats and interventions. Users of this tool can select multiple habitat or intervention types to receive associated activity, process, and benefit outcomes. Notably, benefits can be identified across water quality, water quantity, carbon, and biodiversity, and the environment. The tool also informs the user of indicators and calculation methods to quantify the benefits identified post-NBS project implementation.
We sat down with Gregg Brill, Senior Researcher at the Pacific Institute, and project lead, to find out a bit more about the NBS Benefits Explorer.
Q: Who are the most relevant users of the tool?
A: We have built this tool to be practical to multiple users, specifically corporate users, such as practitioners in water stewardship, sustainability, or carbon-emissions management. From the perspective of public sector agencies, the tool could be useful to municipal-, state- and federal-level colleagues looking to address multiple objectives and support their constituents. Additionally, public sector agencies wanting to compare the benefits from green infrastructure against those accrued from grey infrastructure could find this tool particularly useful. For funders and financiers, this tool can help support pre-feasibility requirements of those looking for the budget to implement NBS. Ultimately, this tool is for organizations who are early evaluators, implementors, and funders of NBS. As we develop the tool further, the functionality will also improve, and so will the breadth of potential users.
Q: At what point in the project process is the tool most useful?
A: We’ve built the NBS Benefits Explorer to meet the needs of users starting off on their NBS journeys. Specifically, the tool can assist those looking to determine pre-feasibility of potential investments in NBS projects or those looking to verify the kinds of benefits that are accruing from existing NBS projects. This tool really helps those who don’t know where to start or those who have not invested previously and would like to gain a better understanding of NBS benefit accrual.
Q: Will the tool help users account for NBS benefits?
A: The NBS Benefits Explorer supports benefit identification in the design phase of an NBS project and provides suggestions for indicators and calculation methods to estimate and measure benefit outputs post-implementation. These indicators and methods can support benefit quantification across water quality, water quantity, carbon, or biodiversity and the environment. We aim to continue to add to the existing list of indicators and methods in future versions of the tool too to make sure we keep up to date with the science of stacked benefits.
Q: How can the tool help communicate benefits?
A: The NBS Benefits Explorer helps practitioners communicate NBS benefits more effectively by creating a clear pathway between activities, natural processes, and benefits. This allows for greater understanding and transparency in building the business case for investments in NBS. The project team is involved with various communications, capacity building and stakeholder engagement opportunities to socialize the tool and the broader project. We also aim to build a repository of NBS resources, ranging from practical guides, through to key webinars and recorded events. This will help communicate the benefits of NBS and NBS projects even more. Finally, we also support and complement multiple communities of practice which offers two-way communication channels to further our collaborative work.
Q: Does the tool help with benefit valuation?
A: Currently, the tool does not support benefit valuation. We’re partnering with other organizations to develop the benefit valuation component of the NBS Benefits Explorer and aim to include this in the next version.
Q: Can users provide input into the tool?
A: We are also developing an expert interface where habitat specialists and those working in NBS, ecosystem services or similar fields can provide insights and input into the interlinkages we have created between activities, processes and benefits across the different habitat and intervention types. We’d also love to hear from users of the tool, so if they’d like to share something or inform us of any issue or opportunities with the tool, they can reach out to anyone on the project team. Our details can be found under the ‘contacts’ tab.
Q: Where will the tool go next?
A: We have some big plans for the NBS Benefits Explorer 2.0. The current version of the tool will be updated in later stages of the project to incorporate benefit forecasting and valuation, as well as updated indicators and calculation methods for benefit measurement across water quality, water quantity, carbon, and biodiversity and the environment. The benefit forecasting will help users understand how benefits accrue proportionally over different spatial and temporal scales. The benefit valuation work will provide a proposed return on investment across social and economic metrics. We also aim to have more context specificity to make this tool practical at more local levels. To do this, we hope to add a geospatial framework so that we can link activities, processes, and benefits to specific environmental conditions and habitat criteria. We also want our tool to be a gateway to other tools, frameworks, and approaches and we are in discussions with several organizations to see how and where we can align our tools. The next version will have many more features so this is one tool to keep at your fingertips for everything NBS!
Gregg Brill is a Senior Researcher at the Pacific Institute, which implements the CEO Water Mandate in partnership with the UN Global Compact. The CEO Water Mandate mobilizes business leaders to advance water stewardship, sanitation, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.