Sandboxing Nature: How Regulatory Sandboxes Could Help Restore Species, Enhance Water Quality and Build Better Habitats Faster

White Paper by Phoebe Higgins & Timothy Male: “Late in 2017, the United Kingdom’s energy regulator, Ofgem, gave fast approval for a new project allowing residents to buy and sell renewable energy from solar panels and batteries within their own apartment buildings. Normally, this would not be legal since UK energy rules dictate that locally generated energy can only be used by the owner or sold back to the grid at a relatively low price. However, the earlier establishment of a regulatory sandbox for such energy delivery modernizations created a path to try something new and get it approved quickly. In April 2018, only a few months after project initiation, the first peer-to-peer energy trades within apartment complexes started.

Energy policy is not the only space where rules need fast modification to make allowances for all the novelty arising in the world today. The protection and restoration of our water, healthy soil and wildlife resources are static processes, starved for creativity. A United Nations’ panel recently reported on the extinction risks that face more than one million species around the globe. In a 2009 National Rivers and Streams Assessment, the EPA reported that 46 percent of U.S. waterways were in ‘poor’ biological condition, and more than 40 percent were polluted with high levels of nitrogen or phosphorus.

Innovators have big ideas that could help with these problems, but ponderous regulatory systems and older generations of bureaucrats aren’t used to the fast pace of new technologies, tools and products. Often, it is a simple thing—one word or phrase in a policy or regulation—that is a barrier to a new technology or technique being widely used. However, one sentence can be just as hard and slow to change as a whole law. Rather than simply accept this regulatory status quo, we believe in the need to find, nurture and learn from new concepts even when it means deliberately
breaking old rules.

Regulatory sandboxes like the one in the United Kingdom open the door to testing new approaches within a controlled environment. While they don’t ensure success, they make it possible for new technologies and tools to be explored in real-world settings. Not just so that innovators can learn, but also to allow government bureaucracies to catch up to the present and adapt to the future. Our planet and country need more opportunities to do this….(More)