Get Focus insights straight to your inbox
The importance of a sustainable ocean economy – or ‘blue economy’ – is growing in recognition. This means innovation is thriving in the marine sector as businesses look to make a positive impact.
In a few months time, ten businesses will join the first Blue Economy Ocean Accelerator Programme organised by specialist consultancy Bright Tide and sponsored by Investec UK. They will receive eight weeks of mentoring as they scale up their sustainability-driven ventures in industries including technology, fishing, aquaculture, shipping and cryptocurrency.
Here, Harry Wright – founder of Bright Tide – joins Senior Investment Director Max Richardson of Investec Wealth & Investment UK to explain why now is the right time for the initiative and what the opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs might be.
1) What is meant by the term ‘blue economy’?
Harry: It takes into account a number of different industries, but according to the World Bank, the Blue Economy is the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while also preserving the health of our ocean ecosystem.
The key differentiation from the ocean economy is that the blue economy is focused on sustainable industries and sustainable development. It covers everything from sustainable fishing to sustainable shipping and offshore wind power.
According to the World Bank, the Blue Economy is the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while also preserving the health of our ocean ecosystem.
2) What are some of the specific conservation challenges facing the ocean and its industries, that businesses and investors can help solve?
Harry: There are many risks that affect not only our environment, but our food, our income and our survival.
Climate change is particularly concerning. The ocean has absorbed more than 90% of excess heat from greenhouse gas emissions since the 1970s and this is causing destruction of habitats such as coral reefs, which not only are home to 25% of marine life, but support more than 500 million people.
Over-fishing is a major challenge too. Currently, 85% of all fish stocks are over-exploited and a third of all sharks are on the verge of extinction. More than 50% of people in less developed countries rely on fishing as a protein source and approximately 57 million people depend on marine fisheries for their livelihoods, so making the industry sustainable is essential.
3) What is the goal for entrepreneurs and other advocates who support the blue economy?
Harry: I think there are a number of objectives. Overall, we’re trying to support the transition from the ocean economy to the blue economy by applying new and existing technologies and ways of working.
We also want to mitigate the impact of climate change on the ocean and the effect that increasing sea temperatures have on the ecosystem.
Finally, we must increase research and development funding into new industries such as seaweed kelp, which has many applications including as a supplement and as animal food. This type of investment has the potential to protect biodiversity, create jobs and support economic growth.
4) How can we measure success?
Harry: It’s a great question! The United Nations has named Life Below Water as one of the Sustainable Development Goals for a healthier future for all. It aims to reduce marine pollution by 2025; increase the economic benefits of sustainable marine resources to small island developing states by 2030; and enhance conservation through international law.
We also need to limit the rise in sea temperatures to below 1.5 degrees by 2050 to preserve coral reefs and associated biodiversity.
We tend to think of the investment world as self-fulfilling, but it’s entirely dependent on the natural systems and societies that exist. Not least, because the role of the ocean in regulating the climate in which we operate is fundamental to existence.
5) Why should the blue economy matter to investors?
Max: We tend to think of the investment world as self-fulfilling, but it’s entirely dependent on the natural systems and societies that exist. Not least, because the role of the ocean in regulating the climate in which we operate is fundamental to existence.
From an economic perspective, the UN says three billion people depend on the marine environment for their livelihoods. The transition to the blue economy means the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy has estimated that the value of related investments could grow by 500% over the next 30 years.
Investors play a key role in supporting sustainability because they allocate capital and can engage with businesses to improve operations. This includes mentoring start-ups – such as through the Blue Economy Ocean Accelerator Programme – or through working with institutions that can influence best practice at board level. This is one of the reasons why Investec Wealth & Investment is a signatory of the UK Stewardship Code.
6) Can you tell us about some of the exciting industries or entrepreneurs in this space?
Harry: There are a number of opportunities in this space.
Seaweed for Europe's latest report explores how seaweed can be a growth engine for sustainable development in Europe. It says that by 2030, seaweed could create 115,000 jobs and mitigate around 5,000,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year. Seaweed is a food, but you can also use it to create eco-friendly packaging and as a pharmaceutical product, thanks to its mineral content and gel texture.
There are also sustainable shipping franchises; offshore wind farm developments; satellites for mapping biodiversity; light-emitting nets which reduce shark capture; and cryptocurrency businesses that donate a proportion of transaction values to seaweed farms. We can’t wait to get started.
Investec has a long history of supporting sustainability through projects focused on the environment, entrepreneurship and education, because we recognise our responsibility to the communities in which we operate. Our purpose is to ‘create enduring worth, living in society not off of it’.
7) What can we expect from the Blue Economy Ocean Accelerator programme?
Harry: The purpose of the accelerator programme is to support and elevate some of the most exciting ventures working in the Blue Economy in the UK and Europe, by connecting them with corporate and academic partners including Investec and Plymouth University for networking and mentoring. We want to enhance the value these businesses add – not only commercially – but to the world we live in.
8) Why did Investec UK want to support the Blue Economy Ocean Accelerator Programme?
Max: Investec has a long history of supporting sustainability through projects focused on the environment, entrepreneurship and education, because we recognise our responsibility to the communities in which we operate.
Our purpose is to ‘create enduring worth, living in society not off of it’ and our Group CEO Fani Titi is part of the UN Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance, which looks at how to fund the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
We’re also a business that was founded by entrepreneurs and works with individuals and businesses throughout their journey, so we appreciate what innovative thinking can achieve. It’s a privilege to back a programme of this kind.
Look for out for more information coming soon on the Blue Economy Ocean Accelerator Programme, including exclusive interviews with the chosen businesses.