Shawn Gagne had a theory when he started his Greensboro environmental consulting firm for governments—cities didn’t care for their trees because they didn’t have the right tools to do so.
June 9, 2015
NC IDEA WINNER: Urban Offsets, Helping Cities Sell Carbon and Monetize Trees
Greensboro environmentalist and entrepreneur is winner of a Spring 2015 NC IDEA grant.
He soon learned he was wrong. Lack of finances caused cities to neglect the proper pruning and mulching and trimming required for trees to grow straight and not fall and hurt or kill anyone. But it also made him find a solution—if cities could monetize the trees in some way, they could justify the upkeep.
Enter Urban Offsets. A year ago, Gagne started building a software and services company to determine the carbon offset of the trees on city property and allow cities to sell carbon credits. The company goes a step further by helping cities find large corporate buyers for those credits—the kinds of companies that want to market the ways they’re supporting local communities and building a sustainable brand.
It’s a solution the NC IDEA committee found to be “a really big, novel idea,” says Grant Program Manager Andrea Cook. And one that creatively “addresses a unique, unmet need that is a painful point for cities.”
Gagne has spent more than a decade in consulting, but went back to school to earn a master’s degree in climate science, and in 2011 moved to Greensboro from his native Canada when his wife landed a new job. He started Talking2Trees to help cities better analyze and maintain their tree supply. That’s what led to the new company.
Urban Offsets has two pilots set to begin later this year in Greensboro and another North Carolina town. Gagne will first use satellite imagery and field analysis to inventory a portion of the average 2 million trees in a typical city the size of Raleigh or Greensboro. All that data will go in a dashboard online for cities to track. And the samples will be used to meet the carbon protocols of the state of California, which set the standard for the way to calculate the amount of oxygen produced and carbon dioxide removed from the air per tree (and host the carbon exchanges).
Each ton of CO2 removed from the air each year equals one carbon credit. Many companies are forced to buy credits as governments regulate greenhouse gas emissions and there’s increased pressure from consumers to operate sustainably.
The opportunity for Gagne’s software is big, he says. Most cities aren’t measuring their carbon offset and those that are do it only for accounting purposes. As for corporations, they’re already buying carbon credits as a commodity. Why not buy from the cities in which their customers live and their employees work?
“The pain point for cities is trees are expensive to maintain, but monetized, we transform them into an asset. For corporations, the pain point is the disconnected aspect of sustainability and sales,” Gagne says.
Gagne hasn’t yet raised money for the new company—multi-year state grants funded his previous work at Talking2Trees. But he’s landed local angel investor David Gardner as an advisor. The NC IDEA money will be used to help Gagne finish up the software prototype and initiate the first pilots. He hopes to then sign on customers, and raise a round of funding.