Planting Trees To Save The Planet Is Turning Into Big Business

As part of the Paris Agreement, countries are reforesting an area the size of South Africa. The opportunity is enormous–

and so are the potential benefits.

In Myanmar, one startup is using drones to quickly replant a massive mangrove forest. In Cameroon, another startup is using an invention called a “cocoon”–a biodegradable paper donut–to help thousands of seedlings survive near refugee camps. In the U.S., a third startup is replanting abandoned farmland with pongamia, a type of tree that needs little irrigation and produces oil that can be used in biofuel and food.

The companies are part of an emerging “restoration economy” focused on reforestation and otherwise restoring degraded land. In a new report, The Business of Planting Trees, the nonprofits World Resources Institute and the Nature Conservancy examine the industry and argue that it’s a field more investors should consider putting money into.

[Photo: BioCarbon Engineering]

“Technology is bringing down the cost of tree planting,” says Sofia Faruqi, who manages the New Restoration Economy program at World Resources Institute. “We’re also seeing consumers take a greater interest in the environment, in particular in restoration and conservation. We’re seeing great political momentum with large government commitments being made in the last couple of years, and we’re also seeing business model innovation continuing at full speed. The confluence of these factors was not there even two or three years ago in the same way that it is now.”

Around the world, driven in part by the Paris Agreement on climate change, governments have made commitments to restore an area of degraded land larger than South Africa. Restoration and conservation can deliver at least a third of the emission reductions needed by 2030 to keep the global temperature on track to stay below a two-degree rise; restoration also has multiple other benefits, including protecting wildlife habitat and sources of drinking water. Government-sponsored restoration will happen in partnership with businesses, many of which are startups.