When we think of carbon offsetting, most of us conjure up images of corporations and national governments scrambling to fund green projects in an attempt to compensate for all the C02 they’re responsible for pumping into the atmosphere. Yet a new Spain-based startup hopes to put micro-level carbon offsetting into the hands of ordinary people. This is accomplished by giving them the tools to become carbon neutral, or at least make up for some of the pollution they’re personally responsible for, whether it’s from driving their car to and from work every day or keeping the lights on.
“The idea is that you will be able to offset a taxi ride for a few cents and then start to think twice when you consume a good or a service,” explains Diego Sanz Prjeto, the CEO and founder of Reforestum. “If we grow strong, we can be more affordable and accessible to literally anyone.”
Reforestum launched a Kickstarter campaign encouraging people to pay to plant a 4.6-hectare forest in Spain, near the Picos De Europa. Here’s the plan: backers are each buying a chunk of this forest — which they’ve called Genesis — from the startup, which Prieto says privately owns the land. These early backers are also funding the creation of an app — a tool he hopes will give people the ability to fund the creation of forests around the globe, participate in the management of these forests via their smartphones, access satellite images of them and track the C02 their little piece of forest captures over time. Reforestum also plans to provide interactive features to help people reduce their carbon footprints in their own lives, educating users about day-to-day choices, ranging from the impact of driving their cars to taking flights.
The desire to reduce his carbon footprint is deeply felt by Prieto, a software engineer who identifies as a permaculturist. “I try to pollute as little as I can,” he explains. “I don’t own a car, I ride my bicycle around the city, buy organic, locally produced food and tend to consume only goods that I need.”
Prieto has teamed up with two forest engineers, Javier Porcar and Juan C. Maldonado, to launch the startup, which has already raised over 40,000 Euros on Kickstarter and launched a beta version of its digital platform. Reforestum plans to plant its first forest in Spain in March, hitting the ground with a lean team of four workers and a tractor. They plan on repopulating the land with seedlings of native tree species, such as pine trees, and oak trees, planting 1,100 trees per hectare. Prieto says he doubts the project will take more than ten days.
I checked out Reforestum’s website (which you can use now in lieu of the in-development app) to see how much forest I’d theoretically have to plant to offset a flight from LA to Tokyo this year, choosing the option of offsetting one transcontinental flight. Their site tells me that I’d have to spend 18 Euros, netting me six square meters of their first forest and capturing up to 1.07 tons of C02 in 25 years. Reforestum gives backers the option of calculating how much forest land they’d like to buy by inputting either a surface area, their desired budget (you can spend as little as 2 Euros) or the specific polluting activities they’d like to offset.
It gets a bit overwhelming when you start considering the carbon emissions of every single action in your daily life, like the electricity you burn up heating your house or the gas your car guzzles — Becoming carbon neutral could clearly get expensive without serious lifestyle changes! Many of the categories currently on Reforestum’s website are vague too. For instance, I didn’t need to specify the distance of my transcontinental flight, so there’s clearly quite a bit of guesswork involved. Prieto says they’re still test-driving their software and will be doing “many iterations” of it, getting feedback and readjusting it when needed. Currently, their plan is to have the beta version of the app up and running in May, with the kinks ironed out by August.
Reforestum seems to be aiming to be the Uber of carbon offsetting, a great idea in theory that hasn’t quite taken off yet in the tech world. However, there are a number of carbon emission calculating apps on the market already, as well as apps that help people reduce their carbon footprint less directly, like Oroeco, which offers users suggestions on eco-friendly actions people should take.
Prieto is already planning to expand Reforestum, to plant forests in the Amazon, South East Asia, Zambia North America and beyond. It’s too early to tell how successful this new initiative will be, but here’s hoping that it’ll make reducing your carbon footprint as easy as purchasing your morning Starbucks on your iPhone.