The Mossy Earth Concept

by Duarte de Zoeten July 5th, 2017

Where to begin?

I would like to introduce you to the concept behind Mossy Earth. I’m Duarte, one of the co-founders of the project. Please beware! This article is a total environmental geek out. It is a transparent view of what we are all about. If that does not put you off please read the whole thing. I will appreciate all the feedback you can give!

"Wilderness is all but gone. The last remaining wild places are disappearing at an incredible pace."

I never understood this. I thought it was a consensus nowadays that we must cherish and protect our natural landscapes. Yet, the opposite seems to be the norm. Why is this the case? Nature must lack real value, however, it never lacked any value to me. I always enjoyed places that are wild such as forests, mountains and the ocean. Logically then, it follows that it must not have much value to everyone else? No, I don’t think so either, all evidence points to the contrary. People seem to really care about protecting and preserving wild places and species. Think about the reactions from your friends and family on issues such as deforestation, habitat destruction or species extinction. We get emotional, sad and angry but we do little or sometimes nothing about it.

I found this rather odd. The Homo Sapiens has many flaws, we are brilliant at disagreeing with each other. However, when we agree on things we generally get them done. If we agree wild places should have a role on our little planet then why do we take no action? As a decent student of economics, I decided to think about the different forces at play.

What is 'Nature'?

Nature is, to my eyes, a version of a public good much like a lighthouse or national defense – it is impossible to exclude free riders from the benefits of their use. This means that people love to have nature around but would prefer someone else bear the costs for them. In our national governance, we have found a clever solution to this problem through enforced taxation. Everyone who stands to benefit from a lighthouse must contribute a small amount to it, thus solving the non-exclusion problem. This concept has been applied to nature and conservation but has a few issues. The quality and abundance of wild places do not immediately impact our daily wellbeing. Unlike a poorly built lighthouse, which has a clear function, it is much harder to assess the poor quality of nature due to the rebasing each generation does to their expectations. No government will fall and no election will be won based on the state of nature. This means that budgets are generally small and the quality of the work inferior.

To find a solution we decided to flip the idea upside down. A private sector solution to some extent. What if wilderness could have a real monetizable value? Then surely it could flourish. This concept it turns out is nothing new. This is why governments promote eco-tourism and why places like New Zealand thrive on it. However, this model does not fit all places and when you look at the basic metrics, the value per square meter of wilderness is still too low to attract strong private investment. This prompted us to look at it from an axiomatic perspective. What are the basic truths in this problem:

Economic value of wilderness is inferior to other land uses

Try dividing the economic value of eco-tourism and nature tourism by the number of hectares it needs. The value is tiny. If this axiom were false we would see market forces step in and generate value from this land use which we don’t.

This means that the problem we are solving is finding ways to generate value for a square meter of wilderness as opposed to other land uses. Wilderness must be competitive. The second question then is how we can generate this value. We came up with a few ideas:
  • Marketing Value: Partners pay into rewilding and reforesting efforts and can benefit from a marketing boost in return. – Already exists through charities though there is room for better product development.
  • Product Attribution: “Buy our watch and we plant 1 tree” this has a very measurable value for most companies. Our partner Bodyboard-Depot works with us on this basis.
  • Service Attribution: “Book our Yoga retreat and make the whole week carbon neutral.” We are currently working with Yoga Masha on this basis.
  • Employee Perks: “Offset the flights of all your consultants.” – Rising demand from environmentally friendly employees is giving this a boost and corporates must fulfill some for of CSR after all.
  • Tourism (obvious!) – mostly eco-businesses, accommodation, and tours.
  • Direct Purchases: Selling wilderness ownership by the square meter, carbon offsetting, animal sponsorship available through our website.

Rewilding “is seeking to demonstrate that restoring ecological processes makes more money for local people than was generated by the industries that formerly used the land”.

The last point is our proudest addition to this list and is where we hope to change the game. However, we will engage across all six channels. This is the point of rewilding in general as put more eloquently by George Monbiot.

So on practical terms what does this mean? This means we intend to excel at generating the highest € value per m2 of wilderness that we can. This must be enough that we can afford to buy and maintain the land by offering a competitive land use investment.

That’s it! This is what we are doing. If you made it this far, it must mean this topic is of some interest to you. I would love to hear what you have to say in the comment section below. Also, if you have any possible leads or if you are a business that would like to partner with us we would love for you to contact us directly.

A big thank you to all of you who have supported this project thus far with your bottomless feedback and unwavering patience to hear us blab about trees for hours on end. We are super excited to finally launch and start working on building those much needed rewilded forests!