Image courtesy of AECOM

My ENCORE – Ash Welch, Biodiversity Lead, AECOM

Case study / 23 May 2024

People throughout the world are using ENCORE to support nature-related assessments for their organisations and clients. The ENCORE team caught up with Ash Welch, Biodiversity Lead at AECOM, to find out how he’s deploying ENCORE on infrastructure projects across Asia, and to get his top tips for others using this powerful tool.

ENCORE is a free online tool, jointly developed by Global Canopy, UNEP FI and UNEP-WCMC, which provides organisations with data that enables them to identify the nature-related impacts and dependencies they are exposed to through their business activities.

What’s your organisation’s line of work and how does your role fit in?

AECOM is one of the world’s largest infrastructure consulting firms. Its focus is in providing services throughout the project lifecycle which includes areas of work such as environment and ESG advisory, supporting clients to be compliant with carbon emissions regulation, or with the recommendations of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD). As Biodiversity Lead, my day-to-day work is usually related to infrastructure development projects that AECOM helps plan and design – we typically do biodiversity surveys and work to support Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) or other frameworks. I also work on nature-based solution design – for example, restoring mangroves in Singapore for environmental benefits – and ESG advisory, supporting businesses to change their operations to contribute to nature-positive ambitions.

What’s the focus of your work?

Many of the EIA projects I work on are in Singapore and have a big biodiversity emphasis, focused on protecting the last remaining tropical forests and mangroves, which can be quite a battle as Singapore is a tiny island state with little space left for development. It also involves mitigation design – preventing the worst impacts to nature and, where we can, designing for biodiversity enhancement.

Another part of my job is leading on nature ESG for AECOM across Asia, developing ESG advisory services and supporting clients to contribute to nature-positive outcomes. That entails a range of workflows, including everything from TNFD assessments to baseline monitoring and evaluation at operational level, materiality assessments, forest restoration, and the more cool and exciting nature recovery work. While that’s an emerging area, it’s what I’m most interested in. I love the design element and ESG work, it’s really positive – you’re contributing to a project that will make a difference.

How far down the track is your organisation with making nature part of business as usual processes?

AECOM has decades of experience in ecology work alongside environmental surveying and assessment, which links nicely with the way the industry’s changing. Over the past couple of years, we’ve developed AECOM’s commitments on nature. In January 2024, we released a biodiversity statement outlining our commitment to encourage positive change through our clients’ work, ensuring we follow the nature mitigation hierarchy. In January, AECOM also became an early adopter of the TNFD, and we’re scheduled to make our first disclosures in 2025.

In terms of an operational footprint on nature, most of our impacts are downstream. That’s why our business has made the move to encourage our clients to contribute to nature-positive outcomes, changing culture and perception in the development sector. We give clients the data, our expertise and knowledge, and support them to understand the value of green and blue spaces, and ecosystem services.

What are some of the challenges you have encountered and overcome, undertaking nature-related assessments?

There can be some challenges obtaining data – it’s variable depending on the location of the work. In Singapore it’s standard procedure to do survey work. Clients know they have to do it so they build it into their scope. But with other projects you don’t have the luxury of doing that and are confined by readily available datasets for the location or wider region. The paucity of the data is variable, and it can make things really tricky. Sometimes we have to use datasets from other regions, using their ecosystem services as a proxy for another location, because the data’s just not there.

What led you to start using ENCORE?

I became aware of ENCORE because it was in the original TNFD draft guidance, and I first used it on a project for a power industry client in East Asia. They were interested in the rise of emerging frameworks, like TNFD and Science-Based Targets Network (SBTN), and wanted to understand how their business could align with those, and what tools they would use to support it. Because it was at the initial, high level stage of investigative work, understanding what their priorities should be, we decided ENCORE would help them understand their potential impacts. We also used ENCORE on the Global Canopy programme to pilot the TNFD LEAP approach in 2023.

What are the top three things you learned from using ENCORE?

It’s an excellent repository for all the key information that would take us a long time to go off and research independently.

It can provide interesting maps with different data layers that quickly give a visual idea of how data changes across a landscape. If you’re working for an organisation with a big operational footprint across countries, you can dip in and visually see how it differs across those regions rather than being restricted to seeing impacts and dependencies in just one selected location.

One of our clients likes ENCORE for the fact that it’s a fast and easy way to get through the initial TNFD locate and prioritisation phases. They go on ENCORE, get the information they need and then use it as the starting point for other assessments. ENCORE has made that process more efficient. At the start of nature assessments, some clients struggle to understand how nature relates to their business. They find it hard to grasp how a river a mile away from their operational site would be impacted by their operation, or how they are dependent on it. So having ENCORE outline those things is helpful in educating them about that process and understanding dependencies for their industry.

a screenshot of the ENCORE tool

Who within your organisation has gone on to use the insights from ENCORE and how have they used this information?

Predominantly it’s our sustainability consultants, mostly those who were working on the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) for our clients and doing materiality assessments. These are the people in AECOM who’ve picked up ENCORE fastest because they’re also looking at the TNFD. Then there are people like me, ecologists, who are very interested in nature recovery and the nature-positive space, and looking at how we can use tools like ENCORE to support what we are passionate about. I think there’s potential for us to use ENCORE for EIAs but we haven’t quite got to that stage yet.

At what stage of the process in undertaking nature-based assessments do you think ENCORE adds the most value?

At the start. Typically, clients seem to start with the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT) and an ENCORE assessment. They give a good high-level indication of where you should start and prioritise the next steps. A next-step example could be focusing in ‘year one’ on examining a particular site and dependency and determining the surveys you will carry out to capture baseline data and track it over time as we improve things. And then you can undertake a disclosure, and that’s a nice, easy year one.

How has ENCORE helped support you with assessments related to the TNFD?

A lot! Particularly the ‘locate’ phase of the TNFD LEAP approach. In that phase, one of the key things to do is identify the sites that a client or that we would be operating in, and get high level data on the potential dependencies and impacts associated with that industry, and then correlate that with the location. For example, if there is a dependency on water, do we have any rivers in the nearby catchment? And then you can use those insights and use them to start prioritising. This is what ENCORE is great for, and it’s the key area we see it being used for at the moment.

What are your top tips for other organisations using ENCORE?

Number one is to first identify the overarching impacts and dependencies for your industry, and for your sub-industry, if there is an option – go down to the most refined detail. This will give you the most granular detail, which is more beneficial than higher-level data.

The second, which is really cool, is to investigate the maps. There are bits and pieces in there that you might be able to explore and identify which you wouldn’t get from ENCORE’s breakdown of dependency scores. There are details around biodiversity, and you can start to see, on a landscape scale, how biodiversity changes, which you wouldn’t get if you were solely looking at a single location for your industry. It gives a really nice indication of where some of the big issues might lie or sites might be, or where you are looking to develop.

Share via