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Developing a game-changing digital exchange for biodiversity units

BNGx

BNGx is a digital exchange for biodiversity units – the UK government's new measure of biodiversity

In April 2024, the UK introduced legislation to bolster biodiversity efforts in property development through Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG). This new law mandates a 10% increase in on-site biodiversity over 30 years, with developers required to restore any biodiversity lost during construction. If on-site enhancements aren't feasible, developers can purchase biodiversity units elsewhere in the UK, following specific matching rules and modifiers.

Finding suitable units entails market searches, negotiations, and legal procedures, adding complexity and time to the process.


Unfold undertook the challenge of simplifying this process with the creation of the BNGx platform; a game-changing digital exchange that automatically matches the demand and supply of biodiversity units.

Over an 8 month period, we’ve combined our expertise in user experience design and web development to deliver a seamless solution to a challenge facing the entire UK construction industry, whilst also helping to ensure the success of the UK’s new biodiversity legislation.

Challenges

The Unfold and BNGx teams faced substantial challenges in bringing the project to fruition:

  • A rapidly evolving regulatory environment throughout the build meant that the goalposts were a constant moving target
  • As the legislation becomes mandatory, and with no direct competition, there was the potential for the platform to see a huge surge in demand overnight which required careful technical planning
  • Whilst the legislation is complex, users of the platform are unlikely to be experts in BNG – and thus it’s vital the user experience is seamless and intuitive
  • With the legislation making BNG mandatory from April 2024, we had a tight timeline with an immovable deadline to meet

Outcomes

By utilising the whole team at Unfold, we were able to have the platform ready for launch in Q1 2024. Whilst the project may be fresh to market, we’ve already produced some incredible outcomes:

  • Combined UX and technical capabilities to create a streamlined user journey – reducing a months-long process to just minutes
  • Deployed a working algorithm in modern web infrastructure that automatically matches the correct combination of biodiversity units needed for a specific development based on the supply available
  • Delivered a working platform on time and within budget, even against a dynamic and changing legal landscape
  • Created a high-performing web application that can handle huge changes in traffic with ease
  • Had exceptional feedback from the client, partners and government

“There's a genuine belief that we have been able to do something that was borderline impossible to do and we've converted a task that could take months if not a year into a matter of minutes. That has been achieved only because we worked with Unfold to help us bring into life into being the algorithm that we had designed. ”

Andrew Hicks, CEO

So how did we do it?

Combining UX and technical expertise

The BNGx project presented two very different challenges for Unfold. On one-side the mathematical complexity of developing an algorithm and platform capable of matching buyers with the correct units based on real-time supply. On the other hand, the design challenge of creating something that will take the complexity and pain of the process away from customers who are not themselves experts in BNG legislation.

This is exactly the type of challenge that Unfold thrives on. Our unique way of working ensures that UX design and research is conducted in collaboration with developers scoping out technical requirements. We find this is the only way to create truly exceptional, seamless digital products that teams leading with creative- or engineering-first mindsets cannot match.

Our client Alex put this perfectly when he said “there’s a really strong discussion loop at Unfold, which brings the entire team together […] we can have a discussion that merges UX concerns with fairly technical systems concerns, and do so, so efficiently”.

Small and mighty approach

The BNGx platform is set to transact millions of pounds during the remainder of 2024 alone. The key to this success however, has been in our small, agile approach.

With the legislation for BNG still being finalised during the build, the goalposts were constantly moving right up to the launch date. Taking an agile approach and utilising our small, dynamic team meant we were able to thrive in this uncertain environment. Constantly evolving the requirements of both the design and the tech, to ensure the end result exceeded the expectations of end-users.


Working together for long-term success

Building the platform was just the first step for Unfold. We’re now partnering with BNGx to build out a long-term roadmap of features to add to the platform over time, helping to cement their position as the one-stop-shop for biodiversity unit trading.

“We came to Unfold with the design of this algorithm but actually converting an algorithm to real running code which can be executed efficiently inside modern web infrastructure is a really complex engineering challenge.”

Alex Dowding, CTO