Wanting to know why New Zealand was not planting more native trees and how to get more Kiwis to do so, Mitchell McLaughlin co-founded MyNativeForest – an app that funds the growth of trees, while Kiwis earn carbon credits. This app is now heading towards becoming one of the leading carbon removal solutions in the Asia-Pacific region.
While New Zealand is famous for its environmental values, McLaughlin believed there to be a lack of action when it comes to planting more native trees.
“When we started talking about it, we knew that there was something wrong here. We’ve got these valleys of potentially marginal land and areas that would be so much better with a biodiverse ecosystem,” says McLaughlin.
At the time McLaughlin was casually researching the space, sharing ideas and talking about what was right and wrong within the space.
“We were just trying to vocalise what the problem was,” he says.
Initially they thought it was a mapping problem, but later down the line they uncovered the problem was really the lack of upfront capital in the farming world where landowners were shouldering the entire cost of this movement.
McLaughlin says it was polarising to find out that these landowners, who were originally celebrated for their work in agriculture were now getting “demonised” and were seen as “killing the environment”.
The landowners felt this was unfair when it resulted in a “massive upfront cost” and the return is “really slow”
With this in mind, McLaughlin took note of the growing trends towards carbon credits for people and organisations.
Putting two and two together, he realised many businesses wanted to earn carbon credits at the lowest possible cost and landowners wanted to get the most return of the forest that they have without carrying the large upfront cost.
And with that MyNativeForest was born.
To see if people would be interested in a model such as MyNativeForest, the team put together a campaign and aimed to get 1000 interested people in three months.
Within one month, more than 1000 people registered interest. For McLaughlin and his team, this was a sign to start considering this seriously and “eventually started building the app”.
MyNativeForest is a nature based carbon removal solution app that funds trees with the help of businesses and individuals and in return, earning carbon credits through the lifespan of the tree.
The business model has been able to solve issues that the landowners and businesses were facing, says McLaughlin.
“What it has managed to achieve is that from a landowner’s perspective, we’re able to essentially eliminate 75 percent of the upfront costs, meaning we have increased their return by 25 percent, which actually makes planting a native forest profitable,” he says.
“For a business, it’s simple, it’s as easy as sending an invoice. You’re planting a tree and you’re earning a return and you’re lowering your per tonne cost of carbon in the future.”
At the core of MyNativeForest, McLaughlin says they put biodiversity and traceability at the front, giving their customers the opportunity to track the tree the moment the seed hits the ground.
“You can be a part of that story over the long term,” he adds.
This is MyNativeForest’s point of difference from the other organisations that focus on lowering carbon emissions.
To give consumers a thorough idea of where their money is going, MyNativeForest has developed a virtual experience technology to give an idea of what the forest currently looks like and what it would look like later down the line.
“There are a lot of physical challenges to that which are high cost, like drone footage to try and build out that story. It was really about the challenge of what can technology do to enhance storytelling capabilities and share more about these ecosystems that are growing and then you can feed back to your stakeholders,” McLaughlin says.
Pulling data from the likes of NASA, MyNativeForest can feed “virtual experiences that they can share so that people can understand the impact that they are actually having over a long timeframe and how they’re giving back environmentally”.
Since its launch in August, MyNativeForest has up to 20 hectares of trees to plant next year during winter.
McLaughlin hopes that with their continuous development of technology, they will soon be the leading Asia-Pacific nature-based carbon removal solution.
With big aspirations in sight, McLaughlin says that carbon credits could be New Zealand’s next biggest export.
“Our sole mission is to remodel the world by planting more trees than any other organisation on the planet,” he says.
He hopes that with MyNativeForest, more Kiwis are encouraged to plant more native trees.
“Everyone contributing is essentially a hero to the future,” he says.