Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.
Thomas Norman Canguilhem (TNC): I’m a passionate climate-entrepreneur into the 2.0 and green economy, with over 20 years of experience in developing businesses and leading digital and sustainable transitions. I’m now on a mission to leave a greener planet for future generations, as Co-Founder and International CEO of EcoTree, one of the most promising nature-based solutions against climate change.
MB: Please introduce your business and the problems you’re trying to solve.
(TNC): The restoration of trees remains among the most effective strategies for climate change mitigation. The world could accommodate 1 billion hectares of canopy cover, which could store several gigatonnes of carbon. Despite this, deforestation continues at an alarming rate across the planet. We lose 48 football fields’ worth of forest every minute. At the same time, sustainable financial models to support reforestation have not been developed; forestry has remained a niche business, inaccessible to the general public.
EcoTree is an impact scale-up offering a simple, ground-breaking solution for companies and individuals to engage directly in sustainable forestry. In short, we own the land and let our clients take ownership over the trees. The magic of our model is tied up in the natural growth of a tree as a physical asset, able to financially reward companies and individuals supporting sustainable forestry.
As the value of the tree grows, it creates a safe home for forest animals and captures carbon along the way. As tree owners, companies and individuals own a natural asset, and they can track how the wood volume of their asset grows on average 2% each year, just like the value of the tree itself. At the end of its life span, the tree is eventually harvested and used for sustainable timber purposes, and 100% of the profit from the lumber mill goes directly back to the tree owners.
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now and what support do you need?
(TNC): It’s important to acknowledge that the global climate crisis is a so-called wicked problem. That’s because it’s so complex that we can’t just apply business as usual approaches to solving this climate challenge, simply because we don’t have the right answers ready at hand.
Put differently, we cannot simply manage our way out of the climate crisis. Primarily because the answers needed to solve the climate crisis are not self-evident and often require a collaborative and creative process across many different stakeholders to achieve any level of meaningful impact. If “management” is the equivalent of “déjà vu” (=seen this before), “leadership” is the equivalent of “vu jàdé” (=never seen this before). Responding to climate change requires leadership in the sense that we’ve “never seen this before”.
That’s why it motivates me to bring together so many talented and ambitious people at EcoTree and to cultivate a working environment where everyone dares to ask questions and constantly challenges the status-quo – not just from a business perspective, but also from a more overall, environmental perspective. We’re facing the greatest challenges of our time, and it requires the greatest talents to overcome them.
MB: What is your ambition for the future of your business?
(TNC): For the next couple of years, our ambition is to scale our sustainable forestry business model across Europe, enabling companies and individuals to turn their climate aspirations into concrete actions. We aim to plant millions of trees on the European soil (we shall not forget that Europe has seen a massive deforestation over the recent centuries!) that create safe homes for plants and animals all while absorbing CO₂ and building biodiversity.
Earth desperately needs more forest canopy cover to avoid catastrophic climate change and restore nature and natural ecosystems that have been disrupted by human-driven deforestation. Trees provide an efficient nature-based solution for drawing down carbon, as simply put they inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. Earth’s estimated three trillion trees can absorb 30% of all annual human CO₂ emissions.
More specifically, our new market entries in 2022 will include Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Ireland, Austria and Switzerland, and we aim to reach out to Southern Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal) by the end of 2023.
Our forecasts are to plant 100,000 hectares of new forests after five years; with 160 million of trees planted, and an estimated additional carbon removal from the atmosphere of 4.8 million tCO₂e per annum. We plan on creating 150 biodiversity projects within 3 years. Our action also includes a social impact, with 500 new jobs created in European forests and at EcoTree.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
(TNC): In my mind, the future of sustainability lies in moving from the actual “punitive” ecology towards a “positive” ecology! This simply means that instead of taxing, scaring or shaming those who are not behaving or acting environmentally-friendly enough, why not reward the virtuous ones instead? Here at EcoTree we use the proven method of financial incentive to encourage companies and individuals to care about the environment. The real heroes are our +50,000 individuals and +1,500 companies who have all decided to combine the planet with profit by taking ownership over their own trees. That’s how we intend to scale the world into sustainable forestry.
MB – Tell us a mistake you’ve learned from:
(TNC): I try to learn from all my (many) mistakes! Actually, probably one of the best lesson I’ve learned in my entrepreneurial career was to jump from one mistake or failure to another with an undiminished enthusiasm… I believe this is the road to success!
MB – How do you spend your time away from work?
(TNC): I spend time with my family! But generally speaking, I try to focus on doing things I love, with people I love.
MB – What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
(TNC): What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And since I was born before Y2K, I got this advice from Nietzsche and not from Kelly Clarkson!
MB – What is the one book everyone should read?
(TNC): ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari. It just brilliantly puts human’s history into perspective.
MB – What is something you wish you were better at?
(TNC): Time management! So I wouldn’t be sitting writing those answers quite passed deadline and at 22:37 on a Sunday evening…
MB – What’s one thing you want to achieve in 2022?
(TNC): At least doubling the impact of our EcoTree business, as we’ve been doing every single year since our launch in 2016!
Discover the other leaders recognised on the 2021 MB100, for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Global Goals, here.