The idea took root in Spain, in the dusty foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains. Where once there had been just fields and scrub, foresters were now hard at work planting thousands of seedlings, among them oak, walnut, cherry and birch. They named the forest Génesis.
It had all been paid for by startup Reforestum with €40,000 euros raised from hundreds of excited crowd funders, inspired by the company’s bold vision that forests could be grown from a smartphone app, allowing everyone to offset their carbon footprint “in a few clicks”.
That was the spring of 2017. But then, for a worryingly long time, there was silence.
“Reforestum was about to die a few times. I was on the verge of giving up multiple times when my personal and professional life got quite challenging,” CEO and founder Diego Sanz told his original backers in early 2021.
“To be completely honest, I was not even prepared to make a company succeed, but I had several promises to keep, and giving up was not an option. I then decided to start an executive MBA program in one of the best business schools in the world, met a great co-founder, raised enough capital to give Reforestum a second chance, and gathered an amazing team.”
Five years on and Reforestum has flourished, winning backing from angel investors, L’Oreal, and securing a Microsoft AI for Earth programme grant as well as joining Microsoft for StartUps accelerator, to plant and protect forests on behalf of people and businesses around the world.
Where Génesis was a forest of just a few thousand trees, users (or “reforesters”, as the company calls them) can now get involved in projects that span millions of hectares globally thanks to their partnership with Ecosphere+, including a 1.6 million hectare extension to the Cordillera Azul National Park in central Peru and the restoration of 23,000 hectares of peatland rainforest in South Sumatra. All of them certified by the best standards for carbon, biodiversity and social impact.
The Reforestum platform transforms carbon offsets into tangible metrics, which contributes to increasing the user connection to the vital role of forests.
Virtual leader boards for each forest, and public corporate profiles, reveal the passion some virtual tree planters clearly feel for their chosen project. One user has offset the equivalent of 67 tonnes of carbon by protecting primary rainforest in Peru, the average emissions of an adult for five and a half years.
“It helps all of us,” explains co-founder and Chief Revenue Officer Alban Bressand.
“The immediate beneficiaries of this work live in and around the forests being created. In Peru and Indonesia, many communities call the rainforest home, and rely on it to survive. Reforestum, along with the effort of partners and conscious consumers, provides large scale restoration and conservation of forested lands.”
A key milestone for Reforestum was the second afforestation project planted in Spain in December 2020 near the same hills as the first, but this time largely funded by corporations looking to meet their environmental goals.
In the new Calahorra de Boedo forest, a share of 1.5 hectares reserved for the Community Forest, where individuals offset their footprint, currently nestles alongside 2.4 hectares planted by Adidas’s Padel sport division, providing a habitat for deer, black-winged kites, and wolves.
Through an Application Programming interface, or API, Reforestum aims to scale the distribution of carbon credits and Reforestum’s proprietary forest shares, so businesses can offer offsets to their customers or employees. This can be delivered, at the checkout when shopping online with responsible brands, and connect them to the projects they support through the Reforestum platform.
“Cultivating trust between all parties involved means increasing transparency, which is why we are developing and integrating tools around the monitoring, reporting, and verification of carbon stored in our forest projects,” says Bressand.
“For our larger scale projects, we’re using satellite imagery which is analyzed with AI and Microsoft Azure. This monitors the progress being made in the protected area and the expansion of forests globally, without needing humans on the ground, allowing us to show companies and consumers tangible progress.”
“We’re using satellite imagery which is analysed with AI and Microsoft Azure. This monitors the progress being made in the protected area and the expansion of forests globally, complementing the work of auditors on the ground, allowing us to track and show companies and consumers tangible progress over time.” – Reforestum co-founder and CRO Alban Bressand.