Natural Capital — bringing a business mindset to environmental issues.

Ed Byrne
Ed Byrne
Jun 3 · 4 min read
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In this article I want to introduce Natural Capital — as we define it at Soilworks — explain why it is a critically important resource and why businesses and entrepreneurs should get involved.

Natural Capital is the world’s stock of natural resources, which includes geology, soils, air, water and all living organisms (from Wikipedia).

For the the last 100 years or so we have been depleting our Natural Capital at an ever increasing pace. The state of our Natural Capital now is one that will not support future generations, and is already impacting this generation.

  • At our current rate of topsoil erosion, we have 60 years of farming left.
  • Today’s food is up to 30% less nutritious than in generations past — causing a ‘hidden hunger’ in 2 billion people, where they consume enough calories but the food does not provide sufficient nutrition.
  • Ground-water and aquifers are in steep decline across the board, and water contamination from chemical and industrial farm runoff is causes human and environmental disasters.
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions drive pollution and climate change, with Agriculture contributing ~11% of that (which doesn’t include the massive carbon store we lose as we erode soil and release carbon back into the atmosphere).

If we don’t do something to reverse this trend, you don’t have to be a math genius to figure out we’ll eventually run out of resources.

The good news is — more and more people are aware and concerned about their health and the environment. The bad news is, it’s hard for people — consumers — to do much about it. Good intentions are one thing, but intentions often don’t lead to actions. Especially when the outcomes are indeterminate or require sacrifice.

My business partner Lew Moorman calls this The Prius Problem: getting less and paying more. The Prius was expensive, ugly, and slow. The opposite of this the The Tesla Way: the world’s best car on many dimensions, and it’s environmentally friendly (and soon to be cheaper too).

The other good news is, at least for the areas of Natural Capital that Soilworks is focused on, we know how to solve them and reverse the damage done.

The solution is called Regenerative Agriculture. I’ll save the detail on it for another article, and there is already plenty of information available. Essentially, Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming that consistently works to improve soil quality using natural practices.

It all starts with soil. If the soil is healthy, the forage and crops it grows are highly nutritious. If the forage is rich, the animals that eat it will be healthy, happy, and ultimately convert it into nutrient dense protein.

The corollary is that enriching the soil solves a lot of environmental problems too— restoring topsoil, which restores food nutrient quality, and since soil requires carbon to grow anything, healthy soil takes it from the atmosphere and puts it into the ground, aiding in the reversal of climate change. Healthy soil is also great at holding water which helps stave off drought and reduces soil erosion from flooding.

What we need to do now is take Regenerative Agriculture mainstream. Otherwise we’ll have the Prius Problem — some well intentioned farmers and early adopter consumers that both work harder than it should be to have good land and good food — consumers paying more, and farmers making less.

To take Regenerative Agriculture mainstream, we need to make it better for farmers, and better for consumers. We need to build consumer brands, we need to redefine supply chains that focus on small farmers and maximize local retail and delivery options. We need to create a whole new eco-system for farming and food production, since the current one has been built for quantity-at-all-costs, sacrificing quality.

This is a massive space — food and agriculture in the US alone is a 1 trillion dollar industry. The opportunity for entrepreneurialism is huge — hundreds or thousands of companies will be created to address all sides of the eco-system.

We started Soilworks Natural Capital to help fuel this movement. Our mission is to ‘accelerate the worlds transition to Regenerative Agriculture’, and we have 4 guiding principles:

  1. Produce natural nutrient rich foods.
  2. Restore plant and animal diversity to our lands.
  3. Regenerate soil and remove carbon from the atmosphere.
  4. Make farming an attractive and profitable enterprise.

Entrepreneurs — consider the food and agriculture system for your venture. As well as being a blue ocean of opportunities, it’s a worthwhile and impactful mission.

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