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Natural Capital update: When you buy a home, you invest in nature – here’s why it matters

Buying a home is investing in a dream. The summer evenings we’ll spend in the garden. The winter nights with friends to dinner, perhaps with produce from our garden or smallholding. The space our children will enjoy and one day inherit. 

Yet the purchase is just the start of investment in our home. It is a piece of Earth – not just a financial asset. It is ‘Natural Capital’, and the more we invest in it, the more we receive back. 

There are three principles to reinvesting in the Natural Capital of the earth. These are: keeping materials in use, designing out waste, and regenerating natural systems. At national level this is called the ‘Circular Economy’, but it is just as true at domestic level: ‘Circular Home Ec’. 

If you’re buying an old house, you’re keeping materials in use, so award yourself a big circular tick straight away. If you’re buying a new one, where did the materials come from, and what was the land before? For everything you buy – food, clothes, technology, furniture, and their packaging – ask, was this one-time extracted from a mine or quarry, or did it grow on a forest or farm? Is that farm or forest regenerative – enhancing the land – or depleting carbon and destroying natural habitat? Where are all these materials going? Can they be recycled into the same products, or do they degrade to waste? Is each item on a circular journey, or a linear one? Can you make your Home more circular, shop by shop? This is Natural Capital investment, and not just for the planet. Studies show that replacing plastic or glass in our homes with wood, avoiding artificial fibres in clothing, and eating an environmentally-friendly diet, is also great for our physical and mental health. 

Can you design out waste in the house’s heating, by installing insulation and renewable energy? It makes a big difference to climate change, and your pocket will thank you every month for lowered energy bills. 

Can you regenerate natural systems in your garden? With so much land intensively used, gardens are vital to pollinators, birds, hedgehogs and other wildlife. Choosing a range of plants that flower from early spring to late autumn and provide fruit, berries or seeds in winter will both make a fantastic year-round show and ensure bees, butterflies and birds never go hungry. A few nest boxes and log piles will re-create the niches and deadwood that birds, bats and beetles would use in an ancient forest, ensuring you have plenty of natural predators to control aphids and biting insects. Creating a pond – even the size of a washing-up bowl – will provide water for thirsty birds, and almost certainly be colonised by frogs. Finding alternatives to products which damage natural systems – especially peat compost and chemical pesticides – will ensure your local investment doesn’t come at a global cost. If you have a large garden or smallholding, you could experiment with regenerative agriculture or even a forest garden.

Considering Natural Capital across the range of activities that Galbraith undertakes, I wrote, ‘marketing is all important, but greenwash is a real danger’. This is as true for Circular Home Ec as for big corporate woodland carbon deals. Everyone is scrambling to market their product as eco-friendly. Keep asking the questions: will these materials stay in use? It is going to end up as waste? Where did it come from, and was it a regenerative natural system? If it’s not clear, is there something to hide? 

Living on the best spot on planet Earth requires you to be sharp and practical – but also to never let go of the dream. 

Natural Capital: Galbraith’s expert advisers guide our clients in realising value in all land uses – by assessing and measuring natural assets, furthering opportunities in biodiversity net gain, and ensuring stakeholders are rewarded fully for their investment in and contribution to delivering ecosystem services and net-zero outcomes.