Biotope re-thinks environmental offsets

26/04/2021

Interviewed by “La Lettre M”, Frédéric Melki, President of Biotope, and Anne-Lise Melki, Managing Director, reply in an interview for La Lettre M on the subject of offset by request versus offset by offer.  

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The Biotope group in the Hérault (236 employees, head office in Mèze, turnover 23 M€), whose core business is ecological engineering, is to apply for a trademark before now and the year-end to revolutionise the environmental offset system in Occitanie and in France.

“That could be a national subsidiary with regional trademarks to be close as possible to field level”,  Mr Frédéric Melki announced to La Lettre. For several months, the founding chairman and his wife, Anne-Lise, the managing director, have been holding many meetings with the Ministry for Ecological Transition, the DREAL (the regional environment directorate) and others.  “We have partnered with working groups in which other consultancies and NGOs take part,” said Anne-Lise Melki.

Currently, offset is upon request, that is to say, on a case-by-case basis: a hectare here managed by an NGO, a hectare there managed by another, a  private operator, whom investors with an ecological debt have to find simultaneously with the implementation of their project  (business parks, campsites, etc.).  What Biotope wants to do is to  import the offset by offer model.  In practical terms, the consultancy will ringfence a vast area of land to dedicate it to future offsets.  “In terms of spatial planning, we have visibility over 15-20 years”, commented the director, specifying that the risk undertaken was shared with private and public investors.

While waiting for developers with an ecological debt to come calling, Biotope, as the orchestra conductor, is enhancing the offset natural site through a project company. Among its shareholders: the owner, the ecological engineering company which carries out the initial studies to obtain the approval, and other stakeholders, interested in the return on a long-term investment.  That model also functions with a local authority which would retain ownership of the land that it would allocate to the offset of its own development projects.

According to Biotope, there are many advantages. For biodiversity: the land is enhanced before destruction takes place. For the developer: the gain of time for the preparation phase is estimated at between six months and a year. Finally, the public authorities supervise a single offset site of several dozen hectares, and no longer twenty confetti-sized pieces of one hectare, each managed by a different project leader.

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