Mossy Earth has as its main objective to create independent and sustainable long-term funding mechanisms for impactful rewilding, reforestation and conservation projects. Our core focus is to help restore, protect and enhance a wide range of important and threatened wild ecosystems through a process that is transparent and enjoyable for our members.
The choices we made when setting up Mossy Earth were premeditated and follow a reasoning which I want to explain further in this business methodology. This is an in-depth breakdown of how we think, so be ready for a long read!
We are incorporated as a private limited company in the United Kingdom with a regular for-profit structure. We are not a charity and the Mossy Earth membership is not a donation.
There are many reasons why we chose to incorporate as a company instead of an NGO or charity. However, before I get into the nitty gritty, I would like to note that this is simply our choice. It’s how we feel we can have the greatest impact, not about how others should manage their projects. There are many fantastic NGOs out there including many of our suppliers and rewilding partners as well as other great initiatives, so please keep that in mind when reading the rest of this methodology, this is about us.
NGOs, Philanthropy and Taxes...
NGOs are different from normal companies and the government in two crucial ways. Firstly, an NGO does not pay taxes and its revenues or investments are tax deductible. Secondly, NGOs are privately managed, and their spending is not subject to management by democratically elected individuals. This mechanism is something that Matt, who co-founded Mossy Earth, and myself find flawed and decided to avoid for our project.
It is my understanding that the concept of an NGO became widespread as a solution to appease the anger at the significant inequality between the factory workers and the first industrial capitalists of the 19th century who accumulated extreme levels of wealth. By creating an entity seen as a benevolent redistributor of welfare, the wealthy individuals that first came up with this concept were perceived as great benefactors to society, whilst still controlling exactly how their money was spent. This is something that persists to this day. “Winner’s take all” by Anand Giridharadas covers this issue as well as other problems with NGOs and social enterprises.
It goes without saying that, when used correctly, the NGO model can achieve amazing results, it just did not feel like the right structure for us.
Distributing Wealth Democratically
Someone who accumulates wealth is usually taxed significantly more than the average citizen. Their tax payments are then added to government budgets and spent by the elected individuals in government at that time. This process ensures, or at least tries to ensure, that the money accumulated through everyone’s contribution is spent democratically. By this we mean that the elected individuals should follow the programs on which they were elected and thus the resulting policies should be the closest to what most of the population wants. In practice, this management is far from perfect and not always democratic, but it's something we can work on together, democratically.
An NGO creates a mechanism for wealthy individuals to avoid taxation and retain control over their money in some form. By receiving tax deductions for their donations these individuals can pay less taxes into the pool of money that is managed democratically and instead put their wealth into organisations and causes where they have a higher degree of control. This point is crucial, I think individuals should be able to accumulate fortunes and spend them how they want but this should never be to the detriment of the democratic wealth redistribution mechanisms (taxes).
Why we are a business
This context encouraged us to think of how we would like to be different. We decided early on we did not want to be a mechanism for wealthy corporations or individuals to avoid taxes. Instead, we decided to focus on the general population for our funding and that we wanted to pay taxes on our income and our surplus.
In a nutshell, these are the reasons why we decided to become a business:
- We like to pay our taxes as a functional organisation that is a part of our society and a contributor to our shared democratic progress.
- We do not want to rely on large corporate donors and their profits because they bring with them unwelcome influence and pressure over decision making.
- We focus on creating a service that can stand as a long-term sustainable revenue structure depending only on individuals to carry out our work.
- The ability to compete and improve through the market forces us to create a better service.
- We believe it is important to showcase that nature and conservation can be considered an economically viable industry through the services sector.
- Instead of relying on accounting as a performance evaluation tool we have the pressure to ensure outcomes are transparent and can be assessed by all our members.
- We want to be open to potential capital investment as a means to grow Mossy Earth's impact.
Transparency is Paramount
We decided early on that impact transparency was paramount to the success of our mission. The public is quite used to reports showcasing how much money was raised and how it was spent. This can provide some insight but does not actually guarantee or prove the on the ground impact. It only tells you how the money was spent and not what the resulting impact was.
Our goal is to build the necessary infrastructure so that every individual that contributes to our projects can verify their impact themselves. This includes using photos, GPS coordinates, polygons, open databases, and satellite monitoring to try and achieve this. We are not there yet but we have managed to setup quite a few of these and you can learn more about them in our transparency methodology page.