Living Planet — which creates a “forest recovery operating system” – comes as a pleasant surprise, and not one I expected.
Climate technology, while relatively new, has settled in two camps: hardware and software. And while Vibrant Planet is certainly a software game — from its cloud focus to its per-workplace licensing, it’s SaaS through and through — its end goal is unlike many others.
The startup, which announced a $17 million seed round this week, doesn’t just trade carbon credits or offer carbon accounting software. It tries to address a very real and very difficult problem – how to first save and then restore the damaged forests of the world.
After training as a landscape ecologist, I have become somewhat cynical that forest conservation and the free market can exist in a mutually beneficial relationship. From a market-oriented perspective, forests are often exploited or forgotten.
Still, Vibrant Planet clearly thinks there is an opportunity to help the world manage a multi-trillion dollar asset.
A landmark document from 1997 estimated that globally forests provide $4.7 trillion in annual economic benefits, including freshwater, timber, nutrient cycling, erosion control and climate regulation. While there is no truly global way to adjust the dollar figure for inflation, it essentially equals 15% of global GDP.
In theory, carbon credits are not a bad idea. In fact, they’re probably one of the least bad ideas we’ve tried when it comes to using free markets to promote forest conservation. However, in practice they leave a lot to be desired.
Carbon credits are an attempt to bring forests into the economic fold. They are well-intentioned, although I am skeptical about them. But more on that later, because while Vibrant Plant has a plan to work with the carbon markets, it’s starting on much firmer ground with fire-adapted forests.
And there are plenty. It’s starting in California and soon throughout the American West, where wildfires have increased in frequency and intensity. After that, Vibrant Planet Down Under could head to Australia, where eucalyptus forests, which have long coexisted with fire, burned catastrophically in the 2019-2020 fire season. It could even take its product to Brazil and the Cerrado ecoregion, traditionally managed with fire for centuries.
Starting with fire-adapted forests is a smart move. First, the Vibrant Planet has its product tested close to home in well-known and well-studied forests. But it also gives it a chance to tackle climate change in a more direct way.