More than half of Europe’s soils are degraded by pollution, erosion and compaction, among other problems, and in a climate change scenario, this degradation is likely to worsen. Currently, the loss of soil quality is costing an estimated €50 billion per year. However, soil health is still considered an abstract concept that cannot be introduced into financial activities and on which it is very difficult to legislate.

The objective of InBestSoil is to co-create a framework for investment in conservation and recovery of soil health, by developing an economic valuation system of the ecosystem services delivered by a healthy soil (e.g. provision of food, climate regulation, cultural heritage) and the impacts of soil interventions, and its incorporation into business models and incentives. This will allow public and private organizations to give economic value to their actions over soil health, codesign strategies with local stakeholders, and work collectively to deliver national and EU policy ambitions.

InBestSoil will provide data, evidence, tools and models to assess how investment in soil health can contribute to the transition towards a long-term resilient and sustainable use of soil, using 6 lighthouses and 3 living labs, which provides a total of 9 study areas across 4 biogeographic regions from Europe (Boreal, Continental, Atlantic, Mediterranean), and different land uses (agriculture, forest, urban, mining), as models for co-creation and co-design (multi-actor approach, responsible research and innovation and open science). This 48-month project will involve twenty partners from ten countries, with very different profiles (universities, small and medium-sized enterprises, consultancies, farmers, and NGOs, among others). This design will facilitate the scaling up of results and their internationalisation, facilitating investments in soil health for companies, public administrations and investment groups around the globe.

New business models for soil health

The BMO group will identify business innovation pathways to transition into more soil-health friendly agricultural, forestry, urban and industrial systems. In particular, BMO will explore the potential of socio-ecological and technological innovation pathways to support adoption and diffusion of sustainable business models and strategies for enhancing soil health. Furthermore, BMO will lead the co-design together with other value chain actors (e.g., businesses, citizens, local authorities) of new business models and strategies for enhancing soil health practices under different land uses in order to create greater environmental and social value while delivering economic sustainability. Building on a systematic literature review of the current existing business models for sustainability and based on the valuation of the ecosystem services delivered by healthy soils, the BMO group will contribute to the creation of living labs from current lighthouses, and provide insights for policy implications.