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Water Today Title May 30, 2024

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Placing Sustainable Forestry In Everyone’s Hands
European start-up EcoTree drives forest restoration with unique incentive model.

By Suzanne Forcese

“The future of sustainability lies in moving away from ‘punitive’ ecology toward ‘positive’ ecology. At EcoTree our method is a financial incentive to encourage companies and individuals to care about the environment.” - Thomas Norman Canguilhem, Co-Founder and CEO, EcoTree

EcoTree International has a team of forest experts that take care of planting and maintaining the forests in which individuals and businesses own trees. The tree owners receive 100% of the revenue generated from wood sales when trees have reached maturity, are harvested and the forest is renewed.

WT: EcoTree has been recognized by B Lab Corporation as Best For The World2022 companies in the environment category; your company has also been named by WEF as a Top Innovator.

EcoTree has a unique sustainable forest model. Please explain how it works.

Canguilhem: EcoTree is a nature-based solutions provider rewarding individual and business investors with a simple, ground-breaking concept of tree-ownership that improves biodiversity and supports sustainable forestry in Europe.

We have 76,000 individual tree owners and 1500 companies growing vibrant forests that preserve and promote biodiversity and help save the planet by capturing and storing CO2.

Our individual or corporate customers can buy newly planted trees from our European forests and become tree owners.

Once the trees reach maturity, we selectively cut and harvest them. We never clear-cut! Tree owners receive 100% of the revenue.

It’s a model that runs over 40-100 years – Nature needs time. However, with an average financial gain of 2% per year, tree owners will more than double their investment.

We have currently planted and are managing up to 1.7 million trees in France and Denmark to ensure sustainable forest management of over 1,000 hectares.

In short, EcoTree makes it possible for environmentally oriented individuals and companies to turn good intentions into tangible nature-positive actions and to join the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. 

Our mission is to demonstrate that forests can thrive AND provide at the same time.

WT: What inspired the creation of EcoTree? What are the sustainable forestry facts that provided the impetus for your company to evolve?

Canguilhem: The forests are the second largest carbon sink on the planet, only surpassed by the ocean.

80% of land-living animal species live in forests.

The world is losing 10 million hectares (the size of Iceland) of forest each year due to deforestation. This affects human health and wellbeing. The total number of plant species used for medicinal purposes could be as high as 50,000.

75% of food crops worldwide (such as coffee, apples, almonds, tomatoes, cocoa and many more) are directly dependent on pollinators like bees, butterflies and beetles.

The restoration of trees remains among the most effective strategies for climate change mitigation.

WT: When was EcoTree founded?

Canguilhem: In 2014, EcoTree's four co-founders took a trip to Denmark, where over 90% of all bottles and cans are returned through a unique system where people are financially incentivized to recycle.

This simple idea of reward for positively impacting the environment rather than punishments for negatively impacting the environment led to EcoTree’s 2016 launch in France.

After a successful start, we opened our international office in Copenhagen in 2019. We create opportunities for as many people as possible to take climate action through sustainable forestry.

Our co-founders developed a system that turns punitive ecology into positive ecology. That represents the future of sustainability: a model that’s not only ecologically sustainable but also economically and financially sustainable.

WT: What are the core values that the company is founded upon?

Canguilhem: Goodwill, humility, high standards.

Mutual effort helps us all grow. Working in the service of nature makes us humble. The high trust that our clients place in us by supporting the projects that we build honours us.

Our daily work is guided by a high level of integrity and an absolute sense of commitment.

WT: What has EcoTree accomplished to date?

Canguilhem: Today we have more than 1.7 million trees planted and/or managed in our 51 forests and take care of more than 20 different tree species.

We have also initiated over 500 biodiversity projects on beehives, wetlands, and ponds to name a few.

Our scope has broadened by adding more nature-based solutions to our core tree ownership. Owning trees is still at the heart of what we do, as it improves biodiversity, captures carbon and supports sustainable forestry. 

We now make it easy for companies to support tailored, verified projects across Europe that restore ecosystems and promote agroforestry.

WT: You are offering the concept of Sustainable Forestry to everyone. What new ways of thinking are you encouraging?

Canguilhem: Climate is something that everyone can participate in, and we want to democratize forest ownership.

We all want to protect what’s ours, and by owning a piece of the forest, we feel a much stronger connection to it.

We’ve also developed a digital universe where a tree owner can follow the growth and development of trees. Here, tree owners can see how much CO2 their trees are estimated to sequester over time; how much they will grow in value and even find approximate GPS coordinates they can visit the forest their trees grow in.

A tree owner can also see the profit it will make when it is felled for sustainable timber one day in the future. This also gives tree owners the option to buy trees as a sustainable investment opportunity. Generally, trees grow about 2% in size per year – so does the initial investment.

Since the investment has the possibility of growing over a hundred years, owners may designate a beneficiary.

WT: It appears a large part of your mission is education with your newsletters and blogs available on your website

Does your outreach also include an in-depth scientific perspective?

Canguilhem: We carry out close-to-nature forest management in the style of ProSilva that educators, students, and tree owners can learn from.

WT: Carbon offsetting is also a topic for which you provide scientific and practical information in your Carbon Manifesto . Tell us more.

Canguilhem: We usually are reluctant to display a carbon sequestration metric per tree. The way trees capture CO2 and store carbon is not linear but depends on a host of factors including the tree species, the location, the soil quality, and meteorological conditions.

At EcoTree, we’ve developed our own scientific methodology, verified by Bureau Veritas, to estimate and compute the carbon sequestration that a designated project will possibly sequester throughout its lifetime.

A tree planted and managed in a temperate forest (such as in Europe) would absorb anywhere between 10 and 40 kg of CO2 per year, on average.

WT: How is harvesting trees part of forestry management? What happens to the trees you cut down?

Canguilhem: While we never clear cut, we do carry out selective thinning, as initially designed in our forestry management plans – inspired by and following the guidelines of the “close to nature” sustainable forestry.

Whenever we start a new forest, we stay as close to nature as possible, meaning that we aim to establish permanent forest coverage and never clear-cut. We also never use pesticides or chemicals, and we mix different and primarily local tree species. 

As much as we want to optimize the forest’s carbon sequestration, we also equally want to focus on restoring and preserving biodiversity. Our aim is not just to plant trees but to allow them to thrive into flourishing healthy and durable forestry ecosystems.

We operate as close to nature as possible, but nevertheless, we run a responsible and limited productive activity, with selective harvesting.

This enables our financial incentive model to run via the sale of timber while also delivering two crucial additional positive environmental impacts. 

The forest ecosystem is given a boost when the younger trees are allowed to benefit from space and light when trees are harvested.

Secondly, it triggers something we call the ‘substitution effect.’ Producing and supplying high-quality timber is the best way to replace more climate-heavy commodities, such as cement, steel, or plastic. 

Swapping one CBM of timber instead of plastic reduces CO2 emissions by 2 tons. And a swap of one CBM over cement or steel reduces CO2 by 4 tons!

Although we are not acting as a sawmill and cannot control the whole supply chain of the timber we produce, a vast majority (approx. 70%) goes into the qualitative timber for construction, decoration, and furniture production purposes.

This also contributes to securing the longest storage of sequestered carbon.

WT: What message would you like to leave with our viewers?

Canguilhem: Every single day 3.4 billion tons of CO2 are released into the atmosphere worldwide. You can offset your carbon emissions by planting trees.

It is easy and accessible for individuals and businesses to contribute to the reforestation and preservation of our common green heritage.

Let the forest be with you!


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