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Leading Through Challenging Times: Lessons learnt from a partial world lockdown

By miltongroup, September 16, 2020

On Monday, Paul Milton, our Founder, spoke on a panel hosted by QP Management, a Malta-based firm that specializes in the design, engineering and management of international infrastructure and environmental projects. Speaking alongside Paul was Aaron Farrugia, Malta Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Planning; Dr Gordon Cordina, E-Cubed; and Reuben Xuereb, CEO QP Management.  

On the topic of lessons learnt from a partial world lockdown, and how to implement a more sustainable future, Paul shared the following observations with the audience:

‘Much has changed in the past twenty years, as we have moved from a world of box ticking, to policy crafting, thought-leadership and technology as a tool to measure results and guide outcomes.

Many will be familiar with the raft of sustainability systems and ‘checklists’ that exist: LEED, BREEAM, Edge and hundreds of other platforms that are emerging. Over the last 10 years, Milton Group have been responsible for advising Owners, Developers, Land stewards, Governments, and Communities on their approach to the sustainability of land holdings of over 15million acres – around 250 Maltas. For the vast majority of these holdings, we remain responsible for seeing through the conceptualization and execution of sustainability programs to protect the natural and social assets held, through long term investments and conservation programs.

These experiences shed light on the fact that the numerous sustainability platforms out there didn’t meet the necessary standards of land and development management required. Sustainability was, and is still, not easily definable, least of all measurable, and the lack measurement limited our ability to value sustainability for the investor, developer and consumer.

Measurement is key. Today, there is the harsh reality that the planet is no longer capable of supporting our current habits of living and consuming. Pooran Desai OBE, Founder of One Planet, suggests that we are now consuming resources at a rate almost twice as fast as the planet can sustain. If everyone lived like North Americans, we would need 5 planets; if we all lived like Europeans, three planets.

A few facts from the UN data base:

  • 11 billion people on our planet by 2100
  • 15% increase in global per capita consumption since 1980
  • +- 60 bn tons of renewable and no renewable resources are extracted globally each year, up nearly 100% since 1980
  • We have lost 47% of our ecosystems measured against respected natural baselines and many forecast to decline at 4% per decade

There needs to be a reset, which will require courage and speed. The World Economic Forum have recently called for ‘The Great Reset’, in the wake of the current global economic crisis. This presents an opportunity for sustainability to be fully integrated into societies thinking: how we consume, build, invest, and perhaps most importantly, prepare and maintain the world for future generations. We have a short term problem to solve, but a long-term opportunity.

 As spoken of earlier, there are many sustainability checklists available, but the reality is that they are, in most cases, just this. These lists help collect data but how can this data be utilized and ultimately monetized to encourage investment into future sustainability, especially now in this post Covid new normal – what is relevant and going to ensure we can make a difference and effect change?.

Milton Group attract and manage private capital from some of the worlds’ leading and forward thinking families and people of influence – what do they care about when it comes to sustainability?

  1. They think short and long term
  2. They seek solutions that require us to think about climate, land, people, the built form and economies in integrated and connected ways
  3. They seek data, lots of data
  4. But most importantly the require results that don’t only look backwards but allow for strategic future planning

We apply an approach to our projects that utilises a framework called Natural and Social Capital Accounting. Data is collected based upon defined project KPIs that don’t only measure a building, system or utility, but measure 10 principle areas of sustainability, collectively called the ‘One Planet Sustainability Principles’, derived from the 17 SDGs:

Land and Nature
Zero Carbon
Zero Waste
Equity and Local Economy
Culture and Community
Travel and Transport
Materials and Products
Health and Happiness


By measuring against these principles through defined KPIs, fit-for-purpose across all of our projects, we are pioneering valuation and balance sheet accounting practices that demonstrate and prove value creation through sustainable and holistic thinking and action.

Gathering data for land areas was slow and manual, but technology has helped to accelerate this collection. Alongside One Planet, we have developed a graph-based digital platform that allows the user to understand and visualize the critical connections and interdependencies between the 10 sustainability principles, as described above, stakeholders and the wider sustainability community.

One of our projects in Mozambique showcases our work in setting the new standard in Natural and Social Capital Accounting. We measure our performance daily on the land holding of 350, 000 acres, a twenty year project consisting of land rehabilitation for a piece of land destroyed in war, the reintroduction of displaced wildlife and eventually an international tourism program. Yet, within the RICS Valuation Red book there are no valuation formulas for:

  • A landholding the size of Greater London
  • A land holding that was destroyed through civil War

Thus, we invented a blended approach to measuring our sustainability impact, using a series of science-based attributes to measure climate impact, land, biodiversity, community and physical development. We report against 63 KPIs visualized on performance dashboards, and this year we converted to 100% digital for the data gathering.

The end result is an annual sustainability report that is valued, providing our investors with real and defendable performance information.

Sustainability is a complex subject; the market is frothy and full of platforms that purport much but do not necessarily provide the real information needed by investors, operators and owner. Our efforts, we hope, will pave the way for technology based machine learning to emerge as an industry standard, ready to gather and predict outcomes.

In this post Covid world the need for clear and accountable thinking has been amplified.

In the past, adequate connections and partnerships between the public and private sectors have not been fully maximized. For the most part, it can be argued there has been siloed thinking, but this needs to change and new models of collaboration, incentive based investment policies, partnerships have to emerge and quickly.

Let us also not forget community; community participation and buy in to sustainability is integral in our view to the success of any program.

We have all been guilty of only thinking inside the boundary, but a shift in mindset is now more than ever greatly needed. When conserving a landscape, it is vital to think about how projects can protect and grow communities, as well as species – creating jobs and employment, providing education and health improvements and better law enforcement all through partnership programs, should be planned in parallel to natural asset conservation, all in favor of strengthening sustainability.

This thinking can have wide reaching downstream effects, , as has been seen at one of our projects in Mozambique – Karingani. Not only are the One Planet principles and UNSDGs locally implemented frameworks, but sustainable community partnerships between local communities and private collaborators are thriving. Kurhula Farm is an agricultural partnership between the local Cubo Community and Karingani that offers not only employment, training and livelihood through an alternative economy, but vitally active participation in sustainable farming and thinking.

Local communities are the long-term, future stewards of their natural assets, and must thus be equally involved and engaged as leaders and protectors of their sustainable futures.

As the world’s economy reboots, the time for integrated and relevant sustainable thinking to take its place at the table is now, we need to invent a resilient and better connected economy.

Policy and guidelines are only one part of this – we now need to execute on these programs with haste.’

Paul Milton, Founder