Finn Ross describes himself as a passionate kiwi naturalist, climate activist and adventurer. And while his studies and work have taken him all over the world, home is where his heart is, which led him to found CarbonZ – a company that enables businesses to buy traceable and native New Zealand carbon removal credits.
Asked to describe CarbonZ’s mission, Ross says, “We need to reduce our emissions as fast as possible and this means removing carbon dioxide emissions and restoring millions of hectares of native forest. But none of this is happening at scale.
“So CarbonZ is about ensuring that climate action is accessible to every kiwi business, and in a way that doesn’t have to come at a significant cost to smaller organisations.”
Purchasing carbon credits is not necessarily a ‘new’ thing, but according to Ross, what CarbonZ is offering, is. It’s about focusing on real, tangible differences that not only assist businesses (and individuals) to help remove carbon from their own backyard, but also aids in the restoration of New Zealand’s native bush.
“Over the years I’ve spoken to lots of New Zealand communities, farmers and landowners, and what I found is that many of them have a desire to re-establish bush blocks, but don’t have the funds to do so,” says Ross.
“CarbonZ connects those who want to contribute to this change with those who have the available space.”
The current state-of-play for carbon credits is largely locked up in buying offshore carbon credits, where companies are paying someone else to cut their emissions, often with an ‘unknown’ of where these funds are going. But Ross says that’s not really an ideal scenario for what we’re needing to achieve. The impacts need to be felt here in New Zealand, with a clear transparency of what’s being contributed to.
Ross is also excited about the potential of developing all kinds of credits, from soil credits to blue credits (for the ocean), as well as building on the projects CarbonZ is already involved in – from restoring blue duck habitat to the reestablishment of a beech forest that’s providing a super diverse fungal ecosystem.
“We’ve also publicly launched our biodiversity credits, which is focusing on endangered species such as the Kea, Whio and Mohua. This is a significant achievement considering New Zealand has the highest proportion of threatened endemic species on the planet,” explains Ross.
However, he warns there’s still a long way to go, both in terms of challenges faced by the industry and also shifting the present-day status quo of carbon credits, which are largely tied up in pine trees.
“There’s a lot of global criticism surrounding carbon credits, where sceptics will say that businesses can just buy their way out of emissions. There have also been a number of carbon credit scandals, which is disappointing.
“We’re also trying to move away from traditional forestry, because while there is nothing wrong with pine trees if they are planted and harvested in the right way, they just don’t offer the biodiversity that a native forest does.”
While supporting a massively rich ecosystem that includes native birds, insects and plant life, native forests also encourage greater water quality through the soils it nurtures. They are also much more resilient, says Ross, highlighted by the destruction of recent weather events that were further compounded by rotation forestry.
Coming from an entrepreneurial family, Ross knew early on that he wanted to be involved in large scale restoration in New Zealand. And this was further spurred on by his education and realising the scale and severity of the climate change crisis the world was facing. So the next step was taking startup life head on, a move the young entrepreneur was very ready for.
“I know it’s cliche, but I wasn’t afraid of failing. All the best entrepreneurs have had massive failures and there is no secret bullet to success. You’ve just got to get really stuck in and if you do make a mistake, it’s important to get up and keep going. Because it’s just part of it all.
“We are relatively lucky that our variable costs aren’t too high. The biggest ‘cost’ has been the time investment from myself and others, committing to the cause without being reimbursed,” Ross says.
CarbonZ has had a few other successes over the past few years, including winning the Enterprise Stream Grand Prize in the Food, Fibre and Agritech Supernode Challenge in 2022 – earning them $15,000 in funding. They also went through the Sprout Agritech Accelerator earlier this year, and have received cash injections from venture capital raises as well.
Ross hopes that more businesses and individuals will see how critical it is to take action right now – to understand what their carbon emissions are, with an aim to be carbon neutral.
“Through CarbonZ, balancing out emissions is accessible to every kiwi who wants to make a change.”
Story by Erin Harrison in partnership with Sprout