AECOM develops digital natural capital accounting platform

London (June 11, 2020) – AECOM, the world’s premier infrastructure firm, has developed an innovative new natural capital accounting platform which enables land and infrastructure owners to better understand, manage and value their environmental assets.

The interactive, web-based platform uses spatial data, remote sensing, audio and video to bring the components of a natural capital account to life. This data then integrates with virtual reality software to create a digital version of the natural capital asset, so users can remotely visit a site, collaboratively discuss its condition and visualise future changes – see the platform here.

The platform provides an increased understanding of the ecological condition of a site, allowing businesses and organisations to better factor natural capital into their decisions and strategies, including for the achievement of biodiversity net gain and net zero commitments.

The ground-breaking innovation has been developed during the first year of AECOM’s Natural Capital Laboratory, a joint-venture with conservation charity The Lifescape Project, which is located on a 100-acre site near Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands.

The platform includes a digital dashboard so that users can access and view the natural capital data. This can include data quantifying the numbers and locations of plants and wildlife, ecological condition, and recording how these change over time, as well as monitoring changes to soil, air, or water quality.

The platform also presents information on ecosystem services such as the amount of carbon the site captures and the financial value of this service, enabling better measurement of offsetting activities, as well as the number of biodiversity units held.

Where data is not available in terms of habitat types and condition on a site, machine learning can be applied to remotely collect and analyse this information using satellite data.

Normally natural capital data and information is stored in static spreadsheets, only understandable to a technical audience, with the information often not representing what is happening on site in real time.

AECOM sustainable development director Robert Spencer said: “Many clients, particularly in infrastructure, know their built assets in detail, but also own large amounts of land which they have less knowledge of. Increasingly, businesses are having to account for how they impact the environment, and work towards no net loss or better still, environmental net gain.

“This is the first platform which specifically enables landowners to readily understand their natural capital assets, learn how their work impacts them and decide how to preserve and enhance the natural world.”

AECOM is now working with clients on their own versions of the natural capital accounting platform.

Adam Eagle, Chief Executive Officer of The Lifescape Project, the rewilding charity for which this digital platform was first developed, said: “Rewilding can have huge benefits for both nature and society, as we are seeing at the Natural Capital Laboratory site as we restore ecosystems. This platform will allow us to better demonstrate the value added to wider society through the undertaking of rewilding projects. It also allows us to engage with wider stakeholders on the topic of rewilding, which we must do, as rewilding and nature based solutions are a key component of how we must respond to the global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, combatting the sixth mass extinction.”

The Digital Natural Capital Accounting platform follows on from other work AECOM has undertaken to improve how environmental information is communicated to asset owners and stakeholders, such as its digital Environmental Statement.


Notes to editors

About the Natural Capital Laboratory

AECOM’s Natural Capital Laboratory is a joint-venture with conservation charity The Lifescape Project, which is located on a 100-acre site near Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. Working with The Lifescape Project, the landowners and their local advisors, the site’s natural environment is being restored, bringing back native forest, reintroducing wildlife and engaging local communities with the aim of identifying and demonstrating the environmental and social benefits of rewilding. This platform is part of AECOM’s work to design and test experimental new techniques to quantify, measure and communicate environmental and social change, applying cutting-edge technologies such as drones, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality and satellites.