Horizons interview environmentalist and entrepreneur Frank Tobé

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Welcome to the second feature in the Horizons series, ‘Trailblazing Next Gens’.

In their second interview, Horizons speak to entrepreneur and environmentalist Frank Tobé. Frank is also a member of the founding family of, and adviser to, DOB Ecology.


Tell us about DOB Ecology, and where the idea came from?

My family started DOB Ecology several years ago. It aims to finance initiatives in natural conservation, restoration and knowledge to create a world in which ecosystems and people thrive. We pay for it with the money we made selling a discount pharmacy chain my grandfather started in the 50’s, which included Superdrug here in London.

What is the mission?

People and ecosystems are strongly linked. Economies and communities, popularly deemed at odds with ecology, fully rely on well-functioning ecosystems. Try to imagine a hotel without water or a democracy without food; for all our lofty ideals, without clean air and water we couldn’t even begin to think about making money. There are two quotes I like that signify this:

“If you think the economy is more important than the environment, try holding your breath while you count your money”  Prof. Guy McPherson

“There is no social justice on a dead planet”  Douglas Tompkins

The latter quote is more or less why we started our foundation, and what drives me in life and in general. Many ecosystems around the world are under mounting pressure from growing populations and an outdated economic system. The Stockholm Resilience Centre defined 9 planetary boundries, which I invite you to have a look at. We’re pushing some of them. Others we can still mitigate.

Can you give us an example of an enterprise which DOB Ecology is currently backing?

The World Resources Institute is a Washington based ‘think-tank’ active in this space. They are a data driven, bi-partisan organisation with the aim of propagating a wiser and more sustainable use of resources. To know how well (or terribly) we are using/abusing our resources, we need data. Surprisingly, this data is not always widely available, exists only in Excel sheets, or doesn’t exist at all.

Before Global Resource Watch there was Global Forest Watch. Forests are essential ecosystems for carbon storage, water supply and biodiversity (the fabric of life). Deforestation often happens at such a rate, however, that protecting them (on paper) is often overtaken by reality. Lacking data = free reign for illegal loggers. GFW, using Google’s Earth Engine (a system of satellites that create maps), recognises deforestation with an algorithm and sends a notification to whoever is supposed to protect it.

ResourceWatch is essentially a badass version of Global Forest Watch, stretching across all relevant data related to ecosystems, from forests, rivers and power stations to riots, earthquakes and floods.

Here is a live view of all conflicts and protests in the last 30 days, all floods in the past 24 hours, all earthquakes happening now, all droughts of the past four years.

Making verified data – curated by WRI’s independent experts – available to anyone. Making it free in a visually powerful format, so that change-makers, politicians, conservationists and businessmen can make smarter decisions. Making sure that nobody gets away with plunder. That’s the concept.

We’ve heard stories from government workers in Indonesia and the Phillippines, whose claims that forests were disappearing were done away with as ‘fake news’. They now use ResourceWatch as a weapon.

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