In the first of our ‘Celebrating the Changer Makers’ series, Sophie Turton, Director of Brand Impact Consultancy The Joyful, speaks to Rebekah Braswell, CEO of technology-driven reforestation organisation, Land Life. Business is the answer to a world in crisis, and to create positive change, we must think in terms of net impact - the sum of our actions, and the ecosystems we exist within as organisations.
This is something we’re super passionate about at The Joyful, and so it was a great pleasure to talk with Rebekah Braswell about the holistic approach Land Life is taking to deforestation, carbon offsetting, biodiversity and the innovative use of technology and data.
In this insightful conversation, Rebekah highlights the immense importance of listening to nature, our greatest teacher.
Welcome, Rebekah. Let’s dive straight in. What is Land Life and why does it exist?
Land Life was founded on the shared conviction that a business approach and technology can drive innovation to restore nature in our lifetime.
Our mission is to help restore the world’s two billion hectares of degraded lands, we plant trees and grow forests and use technology to enable that to happen.
Tell us more about how technology supports this mission
The UN definition of degraded land is land that will not come back unaided. So, some form of human intervention is required to restore these ecosystems. Our goal at Land Life is to figure out how we can kickstart nature. How we can give it a leg up without creating ongoing dependencies.
Nature has taken millennia to evolve to create these robust ecosystems that can be wiped out in minutes. And to rebuild that is quite a daunting task. So, we use technology to understand better so we can provide the best possible support in an efficient and sustainable manner.
We think about that across the entire planting cycle - design, implementation, and monitoring. We collect as much data as possible and track and trace the trees going into each field by their species type, as well as where they were planted. Then we go back and monitor and see not only their survival rates, but also their vigour. How healthy are these trees? What in their environment is impacting their development?
Every time we go back into the field, we can use this data to feed into our designs. We look at how we want to alter designs in the future based on what we learned last year by collecting that data, creating this virtuous cycle of learning around nature restoration.
What an incredible field to work within. The bridging of nature and technology.
Right. And we also recognise the most sophisticated technology out there is mother nature. We are so far from being equipped to understand the complexities of ecosystems, and we need to try our best by using data and insight to learn what we can do to restore what has been lost.
I love this work, as it also paves the way for meaningful careers in nature restoration.
One of the things that came out of COP26 was the idea that carbon offsetting on its own isn't the solution. There are a lot of big businesses that are using carbon offsetting and planting trees as a kind of deflection, and not really doing very much to reduce their carbon.
Can you talk a little bit about that and how your approach at Land Life works in the context of carbon offsetting?
We use the Voluntary Carbon Offset market as our business model, but we only consider CO2 sequestration of nature restoration as one of the impacts of our work.. The trees we plant also foster biodiversity, create habitat and stabilise ecosystems..
We use the funding of corporations who are interested in high quality, high impact ways to compensate for their CO2 to actually draw it down out of the atmosphere.
We're very fortunate to work with customers who are very forward looking, and who are willing to invest much more significantly in finding a solution, but who are also committed to reducing their carbon footprint as much as possible.
When we work with businesses, we look for ones who are committed to net zero and have ambitious sustainability agendas outside of the work that they do with us.
Why do you think Greenpeace flagged the dangers of carbon offsetting as a solution?
There are no rules for this right now. You can have companies claim carbon neutrality without actually spending much money on what that offset means, and without actually changing their own supply chains and reducing their emissions.
Newer initiatives like the science based target initiative, Net Zero, have very stringent requirements on what you need to be doing for your own company to reduce emissions, and what qualifies as a legitimate offset.
These changes don't happen overnight. And we do need to give companies time to make the investments they need to reduce their emissions. At Land Life, we make sure that they're following the highest standards and are making the biggest commitments.
We’re talking ahead of the Impact Summit, which is taking place online on the 14th September. There will be a wide range of businesses coming together to discuss ways we can have a bigger impact on people and the planet. Why do you think it is so important for businesses to have an impact-driven model?
I think it's a must. We can all see the changes that are happening to our environment. You can't avoid it, you can't escape what is happening by not taking care of our natural resources in a holistic way. We need to focus on having an impact out of necessity, and that is the driver of change.
Making a positive impact also inspires people, it motivates them. Companies are finding more and more that this is key for employee retention, employee attraction, that people want to have purpose driven jobs or feel that they are contributing to a positive corporation or work environment.
I absolutely agree. And I think a really key part of the human condition is a need to feel like we have a purpose. There is a real opportunity to give back now, to reconnect with ourselves, each other and the environment.
Yes! And to integrate it into your daily human experience. It’s such a great change to see over the past couple of years as we have moved from one-off CSR projects to actually integrating sustainability into the core of operations, the core of business models, the core of HR.
There is so much potential once you start to reinforce sustainability and impact across an organisation and not just in one little silo.
I love how you talk about the importance of a holistic approach. At The Joyful, we talk about having a net positive impact in business, because positive impact in silo doesn't really tell us anything. You can be having a great impact here, but a terrible impact over here. And then when you add it together, it’s not positive at all.
I think one of the biggest risks we face is to look at things as if they were a periodic table of elements. So the world is focused so much right now on CO2. So, we're going electric. But mining for lithium and copper has an inordinately horrible impact on the environment.
So we need to look at it in terms of balance. How can we address our needs in a sustainable and holistic way? And I think back to your earlier comments about greenwashing, one of our biggest frustrations as a nature restoration company that is using the offset market is that they're just the value is often just on the CO2 element. There isn’t enough focus on the fact that these trees are cleaning air, cleaning water, creating habitat, fostering biodiversity, plus the cooling effects of reforestation over time. Our customers fortunately understand that, which is why they're investing in it.
One of the benefits of the Impact Summit is bringing so many different businesses together to look holistically at the challenges we face. Why are you excited about the Summit?
It’s an opportunity to get inspired by the actions of others and to learn from each other, to connect and explore what could be possible.
I do hope we also hear stories about the challenges we’re all facing and not just the positive stories though.
For example, when we say planting trees, people envision an evergreen forest. The reality is, we're working on degraded, naked landscapes that have been severely damaged.
These trees take a long time to grow, and creating real impact takes time. There are setbacks along the way. It is difficult. And I hope some of those realities are also brought to light at the conference. We can learn a lot through sharing our failures.
What advice would you give a leader looking to make a bigger impact through their business?
Think of yourself as an innovator and a creator. There isn't a blueprint for how to make an impact through business in a lot of areas. We’re trying to innovate and come up with something new, which at Land Life gave us licence to think way outside of the box.
Also, make sure you get outside. It is the best thing for your well being, and you'll always find inspiration when you're outside. So, when you're early on in your journey, and you're struggling to figure out how you're going to make your idea wor, just make sure you also get outside of the office, get outside into nature. You'll be surprised what comes to you.