New Financial Services

Sensing Natural Capital

Environmental sensor data for the financial sector

The  $329 000 project involved University of Tasmania researchers from the School of Social Sciences' Institute for the Study of Social Change, IMAS and the Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, in collaboration with with Peking University Guanghua School of ManagementNational Australia Bank, Global Surface Intelligence (GSi) and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board.  

The project's aim was to help standardise the way environmental sensor data is collected, processed and presented, such that it could meet the needs of financial sector users.


Financial sector interest in natural capital – the natural assets that provide ecosystem goods and services that underpin the economy and well-being of society in general – has increased sharply, as the financial implications of under-valuing natural capital have become more apparent. The combination of progress in sensor technology (lower costs, reduced size, increased capabilities) with ever-increasing data storage and processing capacity has opened up the possibility of widespread real-time environmental monitoring. The possibility now exists to directly sense natural capital in ways that can be used by the financial sector, whether as an input to investment opportunity and risk analysis, monitoring performance, or enabling entirely new markets in environmental commodities or attributes, such as carbon offsets or sustainable labels. 

The Sensing Natural Capital project aimed to improve understanding of the potential role of environmental sensor data in the financial sector and its implications; although much 'environmental Big Data' was available, it was not being collected, processed or presented in a way that satisfied the needs of financial sector users.

The ultimate objective was to help promote appropriate valuation of natural capital in the financial sector by promoting a more standardised approach to the collection, processing and presentation of environmental data.

What we are doing

The project was conducted over two phases. Phase I aimed to clarify the potential applications of 'environmental Big Data' in the financial sector, and the requirements and limitations the sector's needs may have placed on the underlying collection, processing and presentation of environmental data. Phase I activities included:

Phase II of the project (Mar-Dec 2016) was to develop guidance for more standardised environmental sensor data collection and processing to meet the needs of financial sector users, based on inputs from key industry, government and NGO stakeholders.

Early Findings

There is currently no clear guidance for environmental data collection, processing and presentation which reflects common requirements (for example around traceability and auditability) arising from the needs of the financial sector. By developing a better understanding of these requirements, we have identified a number of potential problems and will work to help organisations avoid investing in environmental data infrastructure that does not meet financial sector needs.