ACTIAM, Fidelity International, NN Investment Partners and Nomura Asset Management have commissioned a firm to utilise “bioacoustics” technology to develop a biodiversity measurement that will enable them to enhance engagements with firms. 

Bioacoustics refers to a cross-disciplinary science that combines biology and acoustics. 

The four investors have sponsored French start-up Green PRAXIS to conduct a pilot study using recording devices to assess the biodiversity across different land uses of a palm oil company in Indonesia, including places of non-intensive production, intensive production, reforested land and conservation areas.

Greta Fearman, senior responsible investment officer at Actiam – a Cardano company – explained to Responsible Investor that the devices which monitor birds, insects, frogs and other animals – have AI capabilities and can be connected to thermometers and photometers to measure various additional aspects of ecosystem conditions, such as weather, humidity and vegetation type.

“This approach is scalable, inexpensive, repeatable and noninvasive,” she said. “By contrast, other traditional techniques for measuring biodiversity involve physically tracking and tagging species. This can be effective to monitor individual animals, but is more time-intensive and can be more invasive because it requires human interference.” 

She added that the bioacoustics approach could be replicated with different companies in the palm oil industry, as well as in other sectors, and over multiple time periods. 

Charlotte Apps, sustainable investing associate at Fidelity International, told RI: “Given the multifaceted nature of biodiversity, bioacoustics technology can be combined with other exciting emerging technologies, such as eDNA and satellite data to gather a more complete understanding of biodiversity impacts and better understanding of how companies can adopt more sustainable practices to manage these impacts and provide consistent and transparent reporting to evidence improvements.” 

Apps continued: “As investors, we can engage with companies to encourage use of bioacoustics technology and other complementary technology to understand and manage the impact our investments on biodiversity, to better ensure we are meeting our sustainability goals and acting as responsible stewards of capital.” 

Currently, Green PRAXIS are in Indonesia setting up the microphones in the various locations the palm oil company owns. 

Once the research team returns, it will do an analysis – probably in November – combining the findings with machine learning to better understand the biodiversity profile across the different sites sampled  

Importantly, the keystone species will be measured, giving an insight into the overall ecosystem health. From there they will make an acoustic index, which the investors will look to translate into a biodiversity metric and measurement.   

Fearman said: “We’re hoping from this initial study we will be able to deduce insights about these different land use intensities, for example, reforested land generally has X amount of biodiversity. So, we can use these insights to ideally measure and monitor our engagement outcomes, for example, how a company progresses over time when it comes to their impact on biodiversity and which strategies by companies are most impactful.” 

She believes this final point speaks to the wider move by investors to produce evidence and data about their engagement, which she has previously discussed with RI.