How can technology shield and restore terrestrial ecosystems and freshwater supplies?

Novartis SDG 15


How can technology shield and restore terrestrial ecosystems and freshwater supplies?


Business and ecosystems are connected. Companies affect ecosystems because they rely on their provisioning services, such as freshwater, food, land, to name a few. The world’s ecosystem services have been degraded over the past 50 years and we continue to deplete our natural resources at an alarming rate. While many of the effects are felt locally first, the long-term consequences are global and the scale of change is highly relevant to business, presenting risks and opportunities.

Expanding human requirements and economic activities are placing an ever-increasing pressure on land resources, creating competition and conflicts in acquiring natural resources, resulting in their suboptimal use. By examining all uses of land in an integrated manner, it is possible to minimize conflicts, to make the most efficient trade-offs and to link social and economic development with environmental protection and enhancement, thus helping to achieve the objectives of sustainable development.

Water on the blue planet Earth seems to be omnipresent but just 1% is available as freshwater, which can be used for drinking, sanitation and for agriculture purposes. Water is essential for our life, health and wellbeing. Nevertheless, it is a finite source and is subject to constant recycling within the boundary of the planet. The recycling and subsequent provision of clean and pure freshwater is granted by an intact natural ecosystem. As a healthcare company, Novartis recognises the need for freshwater. Good health is closely linked to the provision of safe drinking water, proper hygiene (e.g. hand washing) and sound sanitary systems (e.g. sewage systems).

Forests cover over 31% of the land on Earth. They have an essential role as they enable all living organisms to survive and thrive by purifying water and air. Moreover, many indigenous cultures, animal, plant and insect species have their habitats in forests and depend on them for their livelihood. Forests also play a critical role in mitigating climate change because they act as a carbon absorber—soaking up carbon dioxide that would otherwise be free in the atmosphere and contribute to ongoing changes in climate patterns. However, forests around the world are under huge threat of deforestation and degradation, which jeopardizes all of these benefits. The main causes of deforestation are agriculture, poorly planned infrastructure and illegal logging. Deforestation in tropical rain forests is a particular concern because these forests are home to much of the world’s biodiversity.

Desertification is a form of land degradation that results in fertile land becoming increasingly arid, resulting in the land being unable to sustain bodies of water, vegetation and wildlife. Contributing factors that affect desertification around the world include urbanization, clearance of land, deforestation, excessive use of water in agriculture, poorly managed ground water sources; and ultimately all of these are accelerated by climate change. All these factors will only increase as our population increases unless novel solutions are found and implemented.

SDG 15 aims to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems to benefit, now and in future, from this natural ecosystem-service. This Lead2030 Challenge is specifically focussed on SDG 15 targets:

  • 15.1: By 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world.

  • 15.2: Promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation.

  • 15.3: By 2030, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements

By scaling up research and development, technological innovation, investing in natural infrastructure and implementing responsible sourcing policies, companies play an integral part in preserving and restoring vital ecosystems, promoting the sustainable use of land, water and forests, while retaining consumer confidence in their product offerings. At Novartis, we aim to drive sustainability through our own operations, as well as those of our suppliers, and we have set ambitious targets to minimize our impacts on climate, waste and water. We have already made significant progress and our ambition is to be a catalyst for positive change and a leader in environmental sustainability.

Novartis looks forward to supporting SDG 15 by funding a project, which utilises data/digital/novel technologies in order to generate positive action, protect, restore and sustainably use the services provided by natural land ecosystem. The project should address at least one of the following:

  • Freshwater recycling capacity

  • Restoring biodiversity of the ecosystem

  • Deforestation

  • Desertification

The project should deliver quantifiable results and be a long-term sustainable solution. Ideas with an assessable proof of concept would be preferred.

Application Deadline: 30 January 2021, 5:00pm GMT

Challenge crtieria


Aligned: Evidently aligned with the SDG 15 challenge. See ‘About’.

Youth-led: Founded by a person aged 18 – 30.

Focused: Well-structured time horizon, identified key stakeholders and beneficiaries, and proposed outcomes that are reasonable and well thought out.

Proven: Readily available, in or past implementation phase.

Impactful: Solutions must have a positive social impact, for example generating employment, or developing skills.

Measurable: Impacts of solutions must have been adequately measured and/or be measurable.

Financially viable: Must be able to achieve efficiency and to survive independently through the resources they generate and/or the investments and donations they attract.

Scalable: Potential to perform as well or better after expanding in scope or size and/or being transported to other regions.



The winning solution will receive:

  • A US$50,000 grant from Novartis
  • 12 months of mentorship from a team of Novartis professionals. The mentorship team will work to accelerate your solution based on the needs of your initiative or organisation, such as:
    • Business strategy
    • Best practices for data collection
    • Monitoring and evaluation
    • Product design

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  • 12 November 2020: Applications open.
  • 30 January: Applications close.
  • 19 February 2021: Shortlisted candidates confirmed.
  • 20 April: Winning solution confirmed.