Cashing in on the corporate ‘green’ agenda
Alexander Platonov points to a map of the world that indicates the places where forests are disappearing. His team is solving a task that should be in the realm of “green” parties, rather than a startup — struggling with the problem of constantly shrinking forest areas on our planet.
In the final year of his studies at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Alexander attended a course on the social responsibility of business, and here learned that many corporations are spending large amounts of money on the restoration of forests.
Back in Russia, he watched the eco-activities of the international brands. The U.N. estimates that over 2.5 billion trees are planted each year on our planet at the initiative of international corporations.
|Alexander Platonov, founder of the Maraquia project. Source: Maraquia.com|
According to statistics, it usually takes more than a year to find an area and plant forests, since the process involves intermediaries. Alexander decided to make life easier for companies and created a service that allows them to plant a tree anywhere in the world without leaving the office.
To do this, companies just need to create an account on the Maraquia website and pay the service a small percentage for linking it up with a forestry company, which then fulfills the order. The forestry company, in its turn, has the opportunity to plant trees without sharing the profits with a large number of intermediaries.
Maraquia assigns a reforestation activity index to each of the countries and companies. The calculation method was developed by scientists at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Yale University and Harvard Forest.
The index takes into account not only the age and species of the planted trees, but also the soil fertility and the region in which the trees grow.
The beta version of the website was launched in early 2012. After a few months, the project was joined by business angels Boris Ryabov and Mikhail Chuchkevich (managing partners of the venture fund Bright Capital), as well as Mikhail Kokorich (former owner of the Tekhnosila chain and founder of the private space corporation Dauria Aerospace).
Having received several million dollars from investors, the Maraquia team began to establish contacts with forestry enterprises worldwide. “We appealed directly to the leaders of protected natural areas, many of whom quickly started talking to us, because they were tired of the slow work of eco-brands subcontractors,” says Platonov.
Over just six months, the service accumulated around 100 sites for planting forests in Russia, the United States and Canada. In April 2013, the team traveled to Silicon Valley and received the approval of Al Gore (Nobel Prize winner and former U.S. vice president), who invited Platonov to join his organization to combat global climate change as part of the Climate Reality Project.
During the fall season, Maraquia plans to implement several orders. To date, Dauria Aerospace (the first private Russian space company that will launch its own satellite this year) has managed to test the service: Kokorich planted about 5,000 Siberian spruces in the Ugra National Park through Maraquia, “offering them as a present” to the employees and partners of the company. Bright Capital, with the help of Maraquia, planted more than 4,500 birch and pine trees in the Orlovskoye Polesye.
Companies that choose to find forestry enterprises through Maraquia will also be able to follow the growth of their forests through an interface where photos of the trees are uploaded, and through a communication system that can be used by the customer and the executor.
The entrepreneur hopes that his service will soon allow companies to monitor their cultivated areas through satellite imagery provided by Dauria Aerospace.
In parallel with the improvement of the model on the B2B market, the startup is launching a mobile application for those who would like to plant a tree using their own personal money. Forestry services will fulfill custom orders by planting greenery in specially designated areas. Maraquia plans to start working with private clients as early as this November.
According to Chuchkevich’s estimates, five years from now, the capitalization of the company may surpass $1 billion. In the next three years, Maraquia plans to capture at least 80 percent of the volunteer tree planting market.
In the global perspective, project creators will also be offering environmental activists services that are not related to forests. “For example,” says Chuchkevich, “people will be able to pay for the installation of additional feeders for bison in forest reserves and purchase thermal imagers for the rangers, to enable them to more closely monitor poachers.”
First published in Russian in RBC Daily.