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OnePlanet: Insights from the Founder

By miltongroup, November 2, 2020

Pooran has worked in sustainability for over two decades. He co-founded the environmental organisation Bioregional in 1994, setting up enterprises in sustainable forestry, organic farming, recycling and real estate development.

Bioregional was one of the first sustainability consultancies and Pooran put together the UK’s first large-scale, mixed-use sustainable community, BedZED, which was completed in 2002. 

Pooran developed Bioregional’s One Planet Living® programme for 18 years, and the development of the 10 One Planet Living® principles, which served as an inspiration for United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Milton Group are investors and founding partners in this state-of-the-art graph based technology platform, working closely with Bioregional to create open-source sustainability plans that can be shared and collaborated with stakeholders and the wider sustainability community. The One Planet Living principles® form a fundamental framework and base for all Milton Group projects.

Tell us about OnePlanet’s conception – how did it come to be where it is today?

In the late 1990s, I put together the UK’s first zero carbon community, Beddington Zero fossil Energy Development (BedZED), in south London.  In 2002, we completed the construction of one hundred homes, offices and community spaces.  There were twenty-seven university research projects tracking the development, so we were generating lots of data but we couldn’t easily make sense of it.  That is when we started comparing impact to the availability of resources on the planet – ecological footprint.  This led me to create One Planet Living® and create the concept of living happy and healthy lives within the resources of one planet.

We developed ten principles from Zero carbon energy to Health and happiness, to guide people, companies and government to create a sustainable future.  Since then, One Planet Living has been used around the world –  for example on over $30 bn of zero carbon real estate development – and was an inspiration for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

How effective has the One Planet Living framework been at Grumeti Reserves, Tanzania? 

One of the pioneers in adopting One Planet Living in tourism was the Grumeti Reserves in the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania.  In 2012, we were brought in by Milton Group who recognised that Grumeti was world-leading in conservation of wildlife but also needed to introduce a wider sustainability programme to ensure all aspects of sustainability were world-leading as well, including renewable energy, water conservation, waste management and equity.

The programme involved working with the Grumeti leadership team and Milton Group to create a comprehensive One Planet Action Plan for tourism and conservation activities, training all 750 staff in the One Planet Living principles to create the culture needed for transformation.   To share some successes: menus were changed to use more local produce suppliers; solar thermal and photovoltaic panels were introduced; plastic bottle waste was reduced by 90% by using reusable bottles and installing UV water treatment facilities; vehicle diesel consumption was cut by 30,000 litres; and 140 jobs were created in the local community.

OnePlanet is currently working with the Karingani project to digitise their data monitoring and reporting – why do you think this is such a key process, and how will it position Karingani within the wider conversation on sustainability?

 More recently we have set up a new company to enable better data capture, reporting and communication, reducing overhead, compressing time while increasing accuracy. This will be essential as we move to a future which recognises social and environmental factors as affecting the value of property assets and their risk profile.

Milton Group have been at the forefront of enabling Natural and Social Capital accounting methodologies to inform financial valuation of assets, for example at the Karingani Game Reserve in Mozambique.

We are now applying technology at Karingani to underpin this pioneering work.  Our ultimate aim is to ensure all assets are valued and managed on the basis of their capacity to support and build natural and social capital as well as financial capital.  These are what we can call ‘planet-fit’ assets.

You’re now working with the country of Rwanda – how do you apply OnePlanet thinking and methodologies to a whole country, compared to a single organisation, and what do you see as Rwanda’s sustainable future?

We have been looking at the potential of the OnePlanet platform to enable a country to build Natural and Social Capital more effectively.  Following a trial with the Government of Rwanda, we are exploring a partnership to create a national platform which can accelerate foreign investment and Public Private Partnerships. This will make transparent the value of projects such as Singita Volcanoes National Park, a project that the Milton Group were the development leads on, and build the foundations of more projects such as this.

What do you see as the fundamental barriers, or solutions, to sustainable conservation?

As a global society we are facing massive challenges now and in the coming years with climate change, loss of species and collapse of ecological systems.   We will have to transform all aspects of our lives from how we get energy, how we travel and even the food we eat.

Conservation will be more than saving species for our own enjoyment.  It will be vital to protect the integrity of the natural systems on which we depend for everything from clean air to healthy food.  We will need to give back vast tracts back to nature – rewilding land converted and degraded by our past activities.  Scientists are now saying that if we were to do that on one third of converted land, we’d not only reduce extinction rate by 75% but also be able absorb about half the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.

What’s next for OnePlanet?

The challenge humanity faces is as big as it gets.   We now realise that it is not enough to do less damage to the environment.  We need to regenerate planet earth. Transforming our economy to one that works with nature will enable us do that.  OnePlanet’s mission is to create that engine for a regenerative economy.

Pooran Desai, OBE, OnePlanet Founder