mullion cbnSustainable land management refers to practices and technologies that integrate the management of land, water, biodiversity, and other environmental resources to meet human needs.  This is done against the need to ensure the long-term sustainability of ecosystem services and livelihoods.  But just how easy is this to achieve?

The Mullion Group provides innovative systems and advisory services for monitoring and forecasting the impacts of land management activities on production, greenhouse gas emissions, food security and sustainable development.

When invited to speak at our next Festival of Ambitious Ideas, Dr Rob Waterworth, CEO of the Mullion Group said that the 24/7 world feels all too close to how the business is operating and growing at the moment. 


Mullion started in 2014 as a consulting firm, “We were 3 or 4 people who had worked together on-and-off inside government for nearly 15 years.  We worked very closely with policy in the science space and focused on how you get high quality technology systems to work with policy”. 

“One of the hardest parts of this was getting people working in policy development to understand that technology can actually help”. 

Robert admitted that bringing these groups together is a difficult and complex process but the results can be highly rewarding for all when it works. 

Robert’s background is in Forestry and he moved to Canberra in 2000 to work on the National Carbon Accounting System. Robert’s partners in the business are software developers. 


“This accounting system is still in place as Australia’s system for estimating emissions from the land sector”, says Robert. 

“This system was, and probably still is, one of the worlds most advanced emission estimation systems.  This was a very exciting time where we came together as a team to work on a high pressure, short turn around time, project. The project involved working with the ANU and CSIRO to understand the science inputs required for the development of a technology platform.  This was the starting point for Mullion”.


After this the team went down different paths and careers, but were drawn back together by their common interest in providing similar, world class technology-based systems to developing countries.   


“We started as a consulting company offering our advice and software expertise on land monitoring systems to developing countries. This was around 2014 when we were working in Kenya with the Clinton Foundation. We started building software off the back of this project in Kenya. The Kenyan Government needed some new software that could integrate their data from satellites and ground measurements and models into a single system with data on crop yield, water and land use planning”. Our unique advantage was that we had actually built and operated a system before. So we became a consulting company backed by technology developed in-house”, said Robert. 


“A lot of people had expertise in an area like satellites, modelling and on ground measurements, but no one had experience over the whole range of data needed and how to pull it together. We already knew how hard this was to achieve.  


Robert said that things have changed a lot since 2014. 


“We have moved on from a consulting company to becoming largely a software development company. The key driver was an increasing need from a range of companies and government for improved information on the land sector and for that information to be provided in a manageable and useful way. These systems currently don’t exist, and the business model of consulting did not allow us to scale”. 


Robert says that based on their reputation they were put in contact with some investors in the US who also saw this as a big problem and a clear gap in the market. The investors found that no one was providing useful multi-faceted information on one output focused framework.

Mullion secured investment in early 2018 and core business is now software as a service provider.

“We are developing an online system, FLINTpro, that can do all the analysis of the information and we support this with some consultancy work. This has been a very important change for the company. Our first objective is still very much the delivery of software around greenhouse gas emissions – mainly because we have all this experience and contacts at this stage. And with the Paris agreement being signed there is an increased need for these systems. The first step is to get FLINTpro on the market. As companies identify the additional features they need, we will investigate whether it’s worth building them. Our system is highly modular and we can easily add these over time into one single platform”.

When asked why Mullion isn’t more widely known in Canberra, Robert says “We are really well known in our own sector and greenhouse gas estimation around the world and in the modelling community.  Our staff includes lead authors on the IPCC and expert reviewers for the UNFCCC and World Bank.  But as a small consulting company we have tended to fly under the radar locally.  As the software is being built we are seeing a spike in interest.  We believe this is because our approach is tested and proven and we are offering customers the opportunity and tools to do what we have been doing but using their in-house specialist resources”. 

What’s next for Mullion?  Robert acknowledges that this is an interesting challenge.  “Our biggest advantage is also our biggest challenge.  Our system is flexible and every time we get asked ‘can it do this’ we say ‘yes’.  Resourcing this is too costly so we are focusing on core outputs and learning to not jump at every opportunity.  The strategic plan is to focus on the key growth areas that we see in this industry.   The two main opportunities for us are countries that need to start reporting on their land sector emissions pretty quickly and using them in mitigation actions under the Paris Agreement; and large corporations that have started making commitments like zero deforestation or reducing emissions in their supply chains, improving their land management or having offsets to offset the emissions they are producing in their production schemes”. 

Robert says that Mullion will develop a standard core framework to FLINTpro that could have add-ons to produce specific outcomes for users.

“We want to turn environmental monitoring in the land sector into something that would be just as operational and useable as a company’s finance or HR system”. 

It’s interesting to hear that most of Mullion’s core software has been developed with governments in Australia, Canada, Columbia and Kenya, the Clinton Foundation and is all open sourced under the Linux foundation.  Mullion provides the extra tailored requirements.

Robert says that an operational version of the software FLINTpro has been completed and they have a range of clients already lined up.  “We know they will be honest with their feedback, and those early users will help us improve the product rapidly.  Building the sales pipeline will be the next big challenge – who do we target, how do we get to them and how do we build the team to service those potential sales?”


Why have they stayed in Canberra?  Robert says that partnerships with the ANU, CSIRO and innovations hubs such as the Canberra Innovation Network are important to the company and Canberra offers a huge amount of scientific expertise that they can tap into.

“We work with them to identify what we can take from the science world and turn it into the basis of something operational and for good commercial use.  As a small, flexible company we also have an opportunity to help them take some of their science to the world”.

Robert is very excited about working with the CSIRO to develop a hub around this work.  In fact Mullion is now onsite with at Black Mountain. 


“This is a unique opportunity for us - we can sit and work with CSIRO and show them what we can do and see what they can do.  This relationship is a welcome challenge and an incredible opportunity.

“In 5 years’ time, we want FLINTpro to be the premier software as a service solution that all large companies are using to report on their performance and management in the land use sector.  But more importantly we want to be able to provide useful and useable information that enables them to drive change in their land use practices to make it far more sustainable.  Business success is important but so is the environmental impact”.

Dr Robert Waterworth, CEO of the Mullion Group will be speaking at the Festival of Ambitious Ideas on the 28th February.

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