‘Magical and important’: growing coral and a global business
There are lots of reasons to feel positive about our potential to make progress on climate change. Not least because of the inspirational people and ideas already making a difference.
They don’t come much more inspiring than Earthshot prize winners Coral Vita.
When the Earthshot Prize Council called out for ideas that could revive the planet’s oceans, Coral Vita’s cofounders, Gator Halpern and Sam Teicher, were building up the world’s first land-based commercial coral farm for reef restoration.
Passionate about restoring corals for future generations, they describe reefs as ‘magical and important.’ And the more corals they can grow, the bigger the global impact they can make.
So as a member of the Earthshot Prize Global Alliance, Deloitte has worked alongside Coral Vita to support its business-growth ambitions.
Coral makes the ocean work
“Coral reefs are one of the cornerstone ecosystems that make the ocean work,” Gator explains.
“They sustain 25 per cent of all marine life and the livelihoods of up to one billion people globally.
“And they generate an estimated $2.7 trillion annually in goods and services like tourism, coastal protection, and fisheries.
“But, they are dying at frightening rates. We’ve already lost half of the world’s coral reefs, and we’re on track to have over 90 per cent of reefs die in just the next 30 years.
“The best thing to do is to stop killing them,” Sam added, “by acting on climate destabilization and habitat destruction.
“But we need new, scalable restoration solutions at the same time.”
Giving nature a helping hand
While studying at Yale, Gator and Sam committed to a project that would give nature a helping hand, bringing coral reefs back to life and sustaining them in oceans warmed by the changing climate.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. After setting up their first farm in Freeport, Grand Bahama in 2018, it was wiped out by Hurricane Dorian a year later.
Though their work was destroyed, their resolve wasn’t. The pair built the business back up and can now grow basketball-sized coral colonies within several years – something that would take decades in the ocean.
Rather than rely on traditional grants and donations, they created an innovative funding model for Coral Vita. This taps into conservation-finance mechanisms – like engaging the public through an adopt-a-coral campaign and selling restoration as a service to reef-dependent customers.
Ultimately, they envision large-scale coral farms in every nation with reefs, working to galvanize a restoration economy they hope will transform how society protects, preserves and values nature.
To show just how crucial these tiny marine creatures are for us all, Coral Vita has opened its farm as an eco-tourism attraction and education centre. It’s also creating new job prospects for local communities and injecting funding into environmental protection and coastal economies.
Deloitte partner Karin de Sousa Nobre and senior consultant Leonie Mentrup were among the Netherlands-based value creation services specialists, part of our Financial Advisory practice, who collaborated with Coral Vita on plans to grow its business.
Together with Coral Vita, they arrived at a plan that’s doubled its initial target for coral restoration.
“Deloitte and Coral Vita are from very different worlds,” says Leonie. “But from the perspective of sharing skills and experience, we complement each other.”
“We learned a lot about the restoration world and Coral Vita’s social-impact perspective. And we were able to share our knowledge about business strategy and structured growth,” Karin added.
“We’ve also created so much more awareness among our people,” Leonie says. “The need to restore corals has touched everyone.”
Our firm is standing ready to support Coral Vita on the next stage of its journey. And in the meantime, here are our two take aways from the experience so far
1. Putting a price on coral
“Sam and Gator have a clear goal: to restore more coral reefs and make the biggest impact they can,” says Leonie. “It’s not about making money for them.”
“We’re focused on this impact,” Sam added, “and at the same time, we need to help others understand the value of corals – and show that people should be spending money on growing and planting them. The cost of inaction is much higher than the costs of restoration.”
“At the moment, there are no formal incentives for investing in reefs the way there are for carbon reduction,” Leonie continues. “So to achieve global growth, Coral Vita is dependent on investment. “To convince investors, they need a robust business and finance model.”
Together, we explored how partnerships, franchises, advisory services and technology services could enable them to do more great work on a global scale. The right approach for Coral Vita combined these elements and quantified their potential impact.
“It was an interesting journey and a joint effort,” Leonie continues. “And being able to contribute in such a meaningful way is an amazing feeling. Sam and Gator’s original aim was to restore 11 million corals by 2030. Now they’re aiming for 22 million.”
2. When you have a planet to repair, there’s value in joining forces
Impact-led businesses like Coral Vita are great examples of how different perspectives could lead to better results. Especially when the ultimate goal is to repair our planet.
Sam and Gator want to grow their business, but they don’t view other businesses as people to compete with or beat. Instead, they’re people to join forces with as, together, they can make a bigger impact – and they’re already testing this franchise and partnership concept in new markets, with new partners.
“Viewing ‘competitors’ as a force to help your business is a really interesting way of looking at growth,” says Karin. “Examples like this are useful for our work with clients who want to structure their investments differently – and who want to explore offsetting environmental impacts as a return on their investments.”
The Earthshot Prize
In November 2021, five Earthshot Prize winners were chosen by HRH Prince William and the Earthshot Council – a group of environmental champions including Sir David Attenborough.
Beyond our role as Earthshot Prize Global Alliance Member, Deloitte is also an implementation partner for the prize – and 200 of our sustainability experts independently screened the ideas.
“We got to meet the people behind the best innovations and helped to assess their potential to create widespread and radical change,” says Katherine Lampen, UK sustainability and climate change lead at Deloitte. “Now, we have the privilege of supporting winners – including Coral Vita, Takachar, City of Milan, Sanergy and SolShare.
“Our people can use their skills and influence to help amplify the impact of these ideas and have a fantastic opportunity to help innovators like these do more to preserve nature and biodiversity.
“That’s what Earthshot is all about: coming together around really big, inspiring ideas to make the biggest impact we can for our planet.”
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