Founders: Nick Butcher & Nelson Artificial Intelligence Institute (NAI)
What products, services, solutions or technology have you developed?
CarbonCrop makes it easier for landholders to earn carbon credits in many different ways. Our artificial intelligence and remote sensing technology can remotely and precisely map, monitor and measure different tree species, meaning more of a forest gets registered, faster, and without needing an in-person visit.
Deciding what you want to do with your land can be tricky, trying to gather together many different information sources to figure out what you’ve got, and what it’s worth. We do that for free, and we don’t get paid unless you do, so there’s no downside or risk to making an informed decision.
As well as registering landholders for the ETS (Emissions Trading System), we also give landholders with regenerating native forests excluded from the ETS the option to earn carbon credits through Native CCUs (CarbonCrop Units) – a voluntary market carbon credit only earned through New Zealand’s biodiverse regenerating native forests.
WHAT KEY CUSTOMER PROBLEMS OR CUSTOMER “WANTS” DOES YOUR SOLUTION SOLVE?
It’s tricky to register for carbon credits, especially if you’ve got regenerating native forest. Many forestry consultants charge up-front, and there’s no guarantee any of the forest registration will be accepted. It’s time-consuming to take someone around the property to fly their drone, and can someone please just explain it all in plain English?!
CarbonCrop changes that. We use technology to make it simpler to earn carbon credits, especially for natives. We precisely and remotely measure, map and monitor the most complex forests, and guide them through the process so more of a landholder’s forest is registered, and faster. We don’t get paid unless they do, so there’s no downside to finding out what they’ve got, what it’s worth, and making a fully-informed decision.
Who and where are your target customers?
We serve landholders of all sizes with forests of all types, but mostly sheep and beef farmers who also have native or exotic forests on their land. We’re especially great for farmers who have regenerating native bush on their land.
We also serve innovative businesses looking to negate their emissions with high-integrity, removal carbon offsets from biodiverse native NZ forests.
How and when did you first come up with the idea for your business?
CarbonCrop came out of Nelson Artificial Intelligence Institute which is a venture studio focused on applying AI to helping understand and solve environmental problems. Founder Nick Butcher and the AI team thought that measuring tree carbon to help people enter their forests in the ETS was a solved problem but when they went out and spoke to landholders, all of them had heard about the ETS, none had entered it because of the barriers of cost effectively measuring forest.
Paying money up front to even know if you qualify was a huge hurdle and it was the first thing we solved. Once we realised this business had commercial legs, the NAI team started the search for someone to join the team in the role of CEO to allow Nick to continue focusing on the tech.
CEO Jo Blundell’s previous company (not a founder) had just been acquired and she was looking for an early stage venture to join. She was interested in reforestation on some land she owns, and was trying to figure out how to fund native restoration with carbon offsets… when CarbonCrop came onto her radar she saw herself as a customer, and the incredible innovation – she was in.
What are three things about your business that you are proud of?
- We’re particularly proud of our native expertise. Our technology makes it easier for us to tackle the most complex native forests, and 80% of all our ETS registrations are for native forests. We are on track to register 8,300 ha of native forest into the ETS in one year, which is more than the 7,300 ha from all others combined in the previous four years.
- Regenerating native forest in New Zealand is critically under-funded, and our existing native forests are one of the biggest potential carbon sinks available to us, yet many are excluded from the ETS. We’re proud that the launch of Native CCUs has brought critical funding to help landholders restore regenerating native forests on their land, accelerating their carbon-sucking potential and maximising their impact in the fight against climate change.
- CarbonCrop has transparency at the heart of everything we do. We’re proud to have raised the bar on transparency and traceability for carbon offsets globally through CarbonTracer, where carbon offset buyers can trace their unique offset back to the block of forest it originated from, and see for yourself that it’s real and still standing, whenever you like.
How do you market your business and what advice do you have for others around marketing?
Know your customer, be generous with your expertise.
The majority of our customers are farmers. The farming community has to be one of the most mutually supportive and generous business communities out there. Farmers are quick to share what’s working for them in the hope that it will also work for their neighbours, so word of mouth is really important for us.
At the same time, the business of carbon is rapidly changing and is filled with technical language. We share our knowledge freely through our key communication channels in a simple, straightforward way, without dumbing it down.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building your business so far?
The biggest challenge is that the Voluntary Carbon Market is still emerging – it’s very fragmented, not standardised and we’re trying to challenge a lot of the sub-par practices that are accepted as the status quo. Being a market challenger and not conceding to fit with practices that we know are not high integrity is hard but it’s critical to us upholding our own values and (we hope) building more trust in the VCM which is critical to our climate change response.
What is the biggest entrepreneur lesson you would like to share with other Kiwis thinking of starting their own business?
Dream big, and stick at it. Bringing something new can feel like a bumpy, lonely road, peppered with potholes to hold you back. If we’d known how hard it was going to be we probably wouldn’t have gotten started so don’t worry that you don’t know the answers, just start.
Story created in partnership with Nelson Regional Development Agency (NRDA).