Framework: ten levels of confidence

Introducing a new framework for the offering of tree planting through web shops.

Traditionally, the tree planting domain is a slow one. Donor-money leads to seed-collection and establishing nurseries. During the next planting season, a certain number of trees are planted. This could be done by the organisation directly, or by providing the seeds / saplings to farmers that plant them themselves.

With the slowness of the process, comes a certain kind of intransparency: if donor A sponsors x trees, and donor B sponsors y trees, in the end x + y trees need to be planted. An internal audit will see to it, one or two years from now.

The total number of trees planted is a relatively set figure that can be accounted for. Things work a bit differently when it comes to accountability of the money spent on tree planting: not seldomly projects accept USD 1 per tree, give 3-5 cents to a farmer to realize that aim, and a bit more per year for keeping the tree alive. After a few years, carbon income will be added to this equation, with their own costs and more community kickbacks. Without some serious spreadsheeting, the donor is completely lost.

To summarize, the tree planting sector has traditionally been slow, intransparent and with a low level of accountability around the received funding. This hinders the take-up in a time when three things are happening:

  1. the urgency of climate change has (finally) hit home, and
  2. the internet has become a powerful tool in organizing and directing attention and resources of people to worthy causes in this domain, and
  3. individuals collectively begin to realize, that governments and corporations are not the ones who are going to solve this crisis

As a result of this, we see a new wave of startups (Project Wren, Pachama, Vlinder, Earthbanc, GoClimate, Almond, MyForest, Compensate etc) that funnel money from consumers to tree planting and/or carbon offsetting (registered or unregistered). A special initiative to mention here is Reforestation as a Service (RaaS), which works with a completely open, free model to make it easier for organisations to add tree-planting to their business processes.

It is clear that those startups are bound to have a considerable impact on the tree planting world. But, being internet startups, the fast money they attract combined with their relative inexperience of dealings on the ground, has again to be processed by the existing tree planting intermediaries that thus far have not created the kind of transparency that the internet makes feasible.

So how could the spending power of the internet startups be combined with their need for a more transparent process, to modernize the tree planting markets?

Lets formulate a ‘theoretical approach’ first, after which we can try to apply that format to the existing initiatives as a way to rank them on transparency and accountability.

The core question a tree planting customer wants to see answered is this:

→ Okay, you claim you’ve planted a tree on my behalf, how can I be sure?

Level 0: Because I say so
Level 1: AND my accountant says so as well

You will be amazed to learn how many of the larger organizations today are functioning on level 0 or 1!

Level 2: AND I can point to a map
Level 3: AND where your name is mentioned
Level 4: AND your name is attributed to a specific area on that map

All nice, but nothing that a programmer could not hack together within the hour. As a modern customer, I need to see more proof in order to be sure that the trees were planted after I ordered them (versus already there), that they were planted by you and on my behalf and my behalf only. So we need to move up on the trust-scale!

Level 5: AND I can show you dated maps of before and after the planting
Level 6: AND I can give you pictures of the planting event
Level 7: AND with specific, graphic reference to your name & order
Level 8: AND the pictures, detailing your name and order, are pinned to a specific location on the map.

The level of confidence has risen dramatically. Still, some questions remain: in principle it is still possible to run a scam this way, by working with multiple ordering websites, and do the planting only once (with pictures of different names & orders taken in quick succession), resulting in different maps with different customer allocations.

Level 9: AND anyone can use my open API to export the maps, and plot them together with other maps

Nice, so now it would actually become dangerous to recycle maps, as sooner or later the cheater will be found out.

Level 10: AND I will import all other available open forestry mapping (through their APIs) to show that nobody else claims to plant in this area.

Finally, we could install an arbitrage commission existing of independent, academic forestry experts, to put a verdict on any conflicting claims for certain areas.

Now that we have a simple framework detailing levels of trust in this domain, we can use this to rank existing initiatives, like WeForest (level 2), TIST (level 1) etc.

Planting on demand’s vision is to build out the Planting on demand platform, in cooperation with partners like Reforestation as a Service in Montreal and VNV Advisory in Bangalore, that will build a network of local planting partners spread out over different geographical regions, in such a way that it is always planting season somewhere with a special focus on mangrove planting in coastal areas. We aim to go the full mile and only work with partners that can fulfill a minimum confidence level 8.

Read more on the following page about the ‘business model‘ we apply to make this happen.