Is becoming paper the ultimate dream of trees in forests?
Merit Valdsalu is the CEO and co-founder of Single.Earth, a deep-tech startup that helps businesses and organizations impact the climate by making climate action a part of the business processes.
One of the most famous Finnish novels starts with a biblical line with a Finnish twist: “In the beginning, there were a swamp, a hoe, and Jussi,” wrote Väinö Linna in Under the North Star. There’s a lot of work to be done, but we have to start from the beginning.
At Single.Earth, we have taken up a massive challenge – launching a new currency based on the earth’s ability to sustain life. We’re creating the world’s first nature-backed currency called MERIT.
To start from the beginning, we started in a Finnish swamp.
Literally, we bought 99 hectares of Finnish swamp in the Pohjanmaa region.
Why? In a way, it’s simple; wetlands are a crucial part of solving the planet’s carbon crises – they hold some 20%-30% of soil carbon. I have to admit; it was very competitively priced, so we have some time to figure out what’s the best way to use the wetland in our offering.
Single.Earth was born at the Future of Wood hackathon in Tallinn in late 2019. I was on maternity leave and had some time to think beyond daily work – I was worried over the extensive clearcutting which was making headlines in Estonian media. Coming from Estonian unicorn Pipedrive, I was looking for startup-like ways to do something about it.
For the hackathon, I teamed up with Andrus Aaslaid after Pipedrive founder Ragnar Sass introduced him to me as a mad scientist who can surely help make the idea alive.
One could say we kickstarted the project – we won the competition after we proved that conservation of forests and economic benefit can be combined. What’s impressive and humbling is that many of the team members from that first weekend are still with us.
Over the two years, we have built a team and a solution with capital from Helsinki-headquartered Icebreaker.VC and from Stockholm-headquartered EQT Ventures.
Today’s Single.Earth is a platform that tokenizes nature for its ecological value – carbon sequestration, storage, biodiversity, and other ecosystem services.
For the first time in history, we are monetizing nature for just being there, keeping ecosystems alive.
Sounds good, but how does it work?
If you own some forest, go to our platform Single.Earth and sign up as a landowner. You get details on what documents you have to present for us to start creating for you MERIT tokens, which can be exchanged for the euros.
Nothing happens to your ownership of land. The land is yours and remains yours. Instead of tokenizing the underlying asset, we tokenize the work nature does – like carbon sequestration. So, for every 100 kg of CO2 captured in a biodiverse forest, we issue one MERIT to the landowner.
Carbon is an element in MERIT tokens, but we are not in the carbon credit market. We go beyond carbon and look at everything that nature does to keep the ecosystem healthy, like holding biodiversity and providing other ecosystem services.
Instead of just selling indulgences to companies, we’re aiming for a fully sustainable nature-based economy. That’s why we are not operating in the traditional carbon credit markets but creating a new type of money, backed by nature.
This is all nice, but where does the money come from?
This is the most common question when we present the service to the people around us. The tokens are sold on the crypto market, where MERIT is a unique currency as it has something real it has been created from.
So the money comes first from the investors seeking returns from the new, nature-backed asset class. Then, we empower all consumers to give back to nature and fight climate change with every transaction that they make. Finally, we see businesses and governments join the movement, and the entire world switch to a nature-based economy.
We would love to see it becoming a tool for conserving nature and making good in the world. For many people, it will surely foremostly be the financial instrument of the future – and not just because it’s the planet that will profit from it, but they will too.
And essentially, I am pretty sure that’s the ultimate dream also for the trees — to live in a healthy forest with other trees and eventually, in hundreds or even thousands of years to disassemble, become home for many small animals, worms, and the likes who need “dead” trees for their home. There’s not much biblical in there — just a normal circle of life.
In contrast, I don’t see much of a life for trees that are boiled into a pulp and coated to become glossy magazine paper.
Merit Valdsalu is one of the speakers at the SHIFT Busines Festival 2022. At SHIFT Merit will talk about how to move from a world that is based on economic growth to a world where the economy is built on how much nature can provide us with.