Blog 27 Jun 2023 

Planting the seeds of success and tracking impact for biopolymer trailblazer, Chestnut Bio

Our work with Chestnut Bio is one example of the positive environmental impact we strive for. Here is how we’re transforming the forestry industry.

Louise Barker

Louise Barker

Director of Impact

In our fourth blog in this six-part series on impactful innovation, Director of Impact, Louise Barker, describes CPI’s work supporting Chestnut Bio on its journey to develop technologies that reduce the impact of forestry on the environment and more.

From a project that initially sought to sustainably protect single seeds, a global forest of opportunity is emerging that could have a significant impact around the world.

Starting in 2019 as Chestnut Natural Capital Ltd, a small research start-up based in the North East of England, Chestnut Bio focuses on eliminating single-use plastics in forestry by developing viable bio-based alternatives. 

Environmental plastic pollution caused by the global forestry industry is responsible for distributing around 0.2 million tonnes of plastic annually, mainly through the use of plastic tree guards. These fossil-fuel-based materials remain in the environment, gradually degrading to microplastics that negatively impact the environment. 

Most trees require protection from wild animals during the first 5 years of growth to ensure their survival to maturity and enable natural carbon capture. Chestnut Bio aimed to develop tree protection systems that do the job,” but with much reduced environmental impact. 

These target products would be non-polluting, non-toxic and biodegrade in the natural environment to water and carbon dioxide at the end of their useful life. 

Ian Brown, Director of Chestnut Bio, and his colleagues had a wealth of knowledge in forestry and agriculture practice. But they needed advice on optimising the materials and processes that could deliver minimal impact on the natural world. 

As with many sustainability innovation pioneers, Chestnut Bio needed support in turning their concepts into commercially robust products. They also needed help in understanding and gaining access to the various funding sources and grants available to assist sustainable product development both in the UK and more widely. 

Formulating to degrade

With our support, Chestnut Bio made rapid progress, and is now bringing its patent-protected innovations to market. Its tree guard system – based on novel biopolymer formulations for cable ties that naturally biodegrade after 5 years of use – is set to revolutionise the cultivation and protection of precious seedlings and saplings. 

Working with Chestnut Bio is a prime example of the impact we have as an innovation catalyst – helping companies bridge the so-called valley of death” or as some people like to call it now, the bridge of opportunity”. As a result, Chestnut Bio has moved swiftly from a research-based start-up to a trading company with huge potential for commercial success and environmental impact. Their cable ties are currently being trialled in 35 sites across the UK from the Orkneys to Cornwall, and Chestnut Bio has recently made its first commercial sales.

Impact trumps outcomes

Our collaboration with Chestnut Bio has had a significant impact on the business’s trajectory and, hopefully, as commercialisation progresses, on wider society. But how do we monitor that impact? 

Previously our focus would have been on tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or outcomes that we required for our own reporting purposes, such as the number of collaborations with companies, projects started and completed, and the total value from a financial perspective of our activities. 

Today, with our vision to be a globally recognised social enterprise that enables deep tech innovation to benefit people, places and our planet, how we consider impact at CPI is much more nuanced with a multi-layered approach to the measurement of our – and our partners’ – impact. Essentially, we’re going beyond simple outcomes to assess the wider benefits of those outcomes in the real world” – whether economic, social or environmental. Or, hopefully, all three. 

At the level of individual projects, we still collect data on outputs and achievements in project closure reports, but we also look to measure the continuing impact with client companies by gathering data post-collaboration. 

And it is not just hard numbers. Our approach to impact blends robust measurement and a genuine interest in how our input has helped to change outcomes and impact for our partners. We want the facts, but we also want to be able to tell a compelling story – in part to inspire others. 

We want to be able to celebrate and amplify our clients’ successes – no matter what the scale of their achievements or the size of the company. Our understanding of impact has shown us the importance of relating these journeys to draw attention to opportunities for growth and innovation that may not be reflected in conventional business reporting. 

Green growth

The novel biopolymers developed with Chestnut Bio provide a sustainable nature-based substitute for current fossil-fuel-based products that can radically reduce carbon footprint and environmental impact across a wide range of applications. The potential of the technology to support Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategies is now being recognised by some major global players as awareness grows of the persistent damage that plastics can do in our natural environment. 

Utilising Chestnut Bio’s core products in potentially limitless ways could change how numerous industries function. From a project that initially sought to sustainably protect single seeds, a global forest of opportunity is emerging that could have a significant impact around the world. 

This is pure green growth, created via the impact-led culture that CPI seeks to support and disseminate. It is the kind of impactful innovation that can benefit local people and communities by building their skills and providing jobs, while benefitting our planet by reducing environmental impact and contributing to tackling humanity’s greatest challenges: climate change. 

Coming up next...

In our fifth blog on impactful innovation, we will be talking more about how we innovate to drive positive impact for places in the UK, using the success story of NETPark as an example.

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