Innovation That Matters

Merit Valdsalu of Single.Earth on Monetizing Forests in Order to Protect Them

Wise Words

We spoke with the co-founder of Single.Earth, a platform that tokenises shares in land in exchange for carbon offsets

Back in February, Springwise spotted a unique startup that developed a way for landowners to earn money for under-utilising their land. The Single.Earth online platform allows forests, wetlands and other natural areas to generate income by being left alone – eliminating the need for their owners to sell their resources in order to turn a profit. Instead, owners are rewarded for preserving ecosystems.

Single.Earth works by tokenising privately-owned natural resources and areas of ecological significance. Companies and organisations can then purchase the tokens and thus own fractional amounts of the lands and resources. Importantly, investors also receive carbon offsets on their token purchases. 

We wanted to learn more, so we caught up with Single.Earth’s CEO and co-founder Merit Valdsalu to find out how this idea came about and what motivates her to keep pursuing her purpose-driven goals.

Where did the original idea for Single.Earth come from? 

The story of Single.Earth goes back to a Garage48 hackathon called “the Future of Wood” which was dedicated to finding new ways of valuing forest and its resources.

Our goal was to create business models that would enable forests to generate profit without being sold as raw material – to find alternatives to intensive forestry happening in our home country Estonia. 

Carbon and biodiversity trading schemes offered the perfect opportunity to solve this issue. Once we’d figured out how to monetize growing forests locally, we realized that we had actually cracked how to heal our relationship with nature globally. 

What was your background prior to this, and how did that shape your work with Single.Earth?

I was one of the early employees of Pipedrive, a tech company that by today has become a unicorn. That’s definitely where I got my passion for building scalable tech solutions. 

But, more than that, Pipedrive taught me one of the key lessons for my journey as an entrepreneur – that people are the most valuable asset of a company. Great company culture is a crucial component of success. Because of that, I’m doing all I can to create a positive and inspiring work environment at Single.Earth.

What change does Single.Earth want to facilitate? 

Our goal is to monetize nature for its real value – the ecosystem services that keep us alive. Nature is the most valuable resource on this planet and it’s crucial for our survival. Yet, today’s business models only incentivize the destruction of these ecosystems.

Single.Earth creates a systematic change in how we value nature financially. We monetize the ecological value of nature like carbon sequestration and biodiversity. 

We turn nature into a tradable and liquid asset class and, by that, integrate nature protection into the existing economy. That’s the only way we can make a lasting impact. 

Through your work so far, are you seeing a genuine paradigm shift in how entrepreneurs and investors are approaching the climate crisis? How much work remains to be done to make a significant impact in stemming climate change?

My experience shows that entrepreneurs and investors are taking the climate crisis more seriously than ever before. Though it’s a tough topic with disastrous outlooks, there’s a certain buzz in the startup scene as everybody sees the crisis as an opportunity to create something impactful. 

However, there’s still a lot of work to be done to turn this excitement into actual working solutions. We need to speed up the process and get these new solutions to market a lot faster. I see that, at least partially, the slow pace is a reflection of the governments’ and international organizations’ approach to these issues. 

To combat the climate crisis, the entire humankind has to come together and make an effort. Without global leadership in this matter, the private sector has to step up and make a difference at the grassroots level. 

What keeps you motivated during times of frustration?

I’ve realized that now that I’ve started the journey to save the natural world, there is no turning back. Regardless of how frustrating things can get, I’ve never even considered quitting. Failing is not an option if the future of our world is at stake. 

So, the biggest motivation in this journey is the impact we’re making. Knowing that we’ve saved an immensely biodiverse rainforest or restored a degraded land back to a healthy ecosystem where animals return – and at the same time secured the local communities a decent income – is what keeps us going. 

What has been your proudest moment thus far? 

Our proudest moments have been the recognition we’ve received from some of the largest nature conservation organizations in the world. Hearing that they have been looking for a solution like Single.Earth has reassured us that we’re doing the right thing and encouraged us to think even bigger. 

We’ve also been super grateful for all the attention we’ve received from the international media like Reuters and Forbes. It’s amazing to see the topics dear to my heart being published to a very wide audience, reaching people from very different walks of life, not just environmentalists.  

What is one book or film you’ve recently consumed that has inspired you and that you might recommend? 

I’d actually point out a documentary I watched just recently. I believe that every person should watch Seaspiracy. It’s a powerful documentary that shows the impact humans have on the marine ecosystem. 

It leaves you thinking about how everything that we do affects other living things on this planet. Hopefully, this will encourage people to do their part in protecting the environment. 

We can all make a difference by changing the way we use natural resources. Nobody will save the planet for us. We must all do it together, and every little bit helps.  

Who inspires you personally? 

I am inspired by people who have the guts to speak up when something is wrong. We must denormalize old habits, traditions, and pure greed that are causing harm to other living beings and the environment. 

This can only happen if there are people to call things for what they are. I admire the kind of boldness in people and try to level up to that as well. 

Do you have any other thoughts or wise words for aspiring purpose-driven entrepreneurs? 

Build a team and a network of people around you who believe in the same purpose. They will play a crucial role in motivating you to keep going when the times are hard and pushing you to think bigger when everything seems to be good already.