The bigger the idea, the madder it can sound--but futures, for better or worse, are built on mad ideas. Survcoin, Food For Future and Nash FintechX are run by entrepreneurs who have mobilised blockchain technology in order to tackle entire systems such as food production or money itself, their ultimate aim being to address the climate crisis.
To what extent is conventional money keeping us addicted to fossil fuels?
That’s a question posed by Jean Lasar, founder of Survcoin, a cryptocurrency that rewards decarbonisation efforts.
“I believe we need to really interrogate some basics about how society works,” he says, arguing that change at a systemic level is necessary to properly fight climate change. “Decarbonising might well be become much easier if we were able to use other forms of currency--if we were able to organise transactions in a different way.”
Part of problem with traditional money, Lasar explains, is that prices don’t contain much information. “Prices only tell you that someone hopes to earn money by selling you this at that price.” Value creation in this context happens simply when a company manages to make money from a manufacturing or commercial process. But Lasar, a former journalist, dreams bigger: his new currency, survcoins, are earned when you can prove that you have reduced your carbon footprint.
How does that work? For now, Survcoin is devoted to soft mobility, or trying to incentivise people to use bikes, scooters, trains, buses, etc. instead of cars. Companies, shops or organisations can match the value of something they have--a sweatshirt, a painting, a day off for an employee--to an amount of carbon that travelling sustainably manages to save. Survcoin comes in by verifying that amount of carbon and handling the transaction, using a digital ledger for traceability and transparency.
In effect, this enables individual organisations to invest in behaviour rather than more tangible things like technologies or products. Lasar believes that Survcoin is competitive against current decarbonisation incentives like subsidies for green vehicles. “We reward usage and behaviour rather than ownership,” he points out. Purchases are one-offs, whereas behaviour is ongoing.
Asked to clarify whether the concept relies on the organisation to act out of goodwill, Lasar explains: “There are monetary benefits which an organisation can obtain from using survcoins. A commune can gain a better Climate Pact ranking, for instance, which will result in increased subsidies. An employer who manages to induce more active mobility among their staff will benefit from their enhanced health and assiduity.”
There is potential marketing value as well, he adds: “If you look at how companies rush these days to obtain any kind of green credentials they can get, it makes sense to me that demonstrably stimulating soft mobility among their personnel with the help of a dedicated currency could easily be heralded as a way of assuming climate responsibility.”
The startup is currently running a pilot project (“MobiDiff”) in the commune of Differdange, where city employees can earn survcoins if they commute in a sustainable way.
With a team of two and about 30 users, Survcoin is still in its beta phase, having incorporated in 2022 as a Société d’impact societal (societal impact company or “SIS”). One of the next goals, for Lasar, is to get enough users to create critical mass in Luxembourg and check the organisation’s proof-of-concept.
Food For Future
“No company on its own--no fund on its own--is going to be able to do this. It’s a lot of people that are going to have to do it.”
The “it” here refers, in the broadest possible terms, to solving the climate crisis. More specifically, the speaker is talking about fixing systemic problems in the global food production industry.
That speaker is Eduardo Gramuglia, CIO of a new Luxembourg entity called Food For Future. The company’s founder and CEO, Rushank Bardolia, draws attention to the extreme divide between rich and poor regions: in the global north, the discourse revolves around high-tech solutions and wealthy investors; in the global south, there are farmers who don’t even have reliable electricity, let alone access to innovative technologies or financial backing.
Gramuglia’s comment also gets at the ethos of the company, which is to empower farmers and their communities rather than (per se) to sell a technological product. “We are an agriculture company that uses technology,” says Bardolia. “We are not a technology company that is used by agriculture. That is very important for us.”
The company’s ambition is big. Its ultimate goal is to change the climate finance narrative by creating an asset class around regenerative agriculture (as a way to diversify climate funds). Abhimanyu Singh, COO, points out that smallholder farmers are currently completely cut off from the global food industry.
How can such a goal be met? Most immediately, Food For Future is seeking to bring innovative technologies to farmers in places like Ghana, where a pilot project is currently underway, in order to digitise the first mile of the food supply chain. This farm-to-factory phase is, in Singh’s phrasing, “where the sustainability number game is won or lost”.
The transparency offered by blockchain, for instance, will help fight local corruption and secure records of where crops originated. Eventually, it will also enable a platform on which farmers can sell carbon credits on top of their agricultural output. At the same time, the firm wants to bring precision farming to these communities in order to enable regenerative agriculture practices on a large scale, a goal that will involve IoT sensors in the soil, drones and other data solutions. (Precision farming is the practice of using farmland more strategically with the help of analytical tools; regenerative agriculture is a farming practice in which land degradation is prevented and carbon neutrality/negativity becomes possible.)
Realising this vision will take time, however. Bardolia has already been living in Ghana for five years, building trust in the community and getting the early phases of the project off the ground. “Imagine,” he says, “…people are wanting to take blockchain to [Ghana]. But 60% of Africa does not have internet.”
“Digitally, [the farmers] don’t exist,” adds Singh, pointing out that documentation and records are lacking in Africa.
“What we are doing differently,” Bardolia continues, “is understanding what is missing on the ground--then bringing the technology to make it actually scalable, usable and affordable.”
The project in Ghana is called Green Earth Agro, which began as a startup geared towards responsibly producing and selling palm oil but which, now as a project under the Food For Future holding company, has broadened in scope. Although in the longer term the company wants to take its expertise to countries all over the global south, right now it is still establishing itself in Ghana.
Currently, it pays farmers to implement good farming practices that can be tracked on blockchain. “Once that is verified, and we sell that produce,” explains Singh, “we give them part of the profits back, enabling a circular economy--and the money goes directly into their crypto-wallets.” Once the farmers start to make more money than before, their trust will strengthen. “Change happens at the rate of trust,” says Singh. The idea is that eventually they will qualify for micro-financing loans with the record of tangible assets they will build.
The project is gaining ground, and in the most literal way: it encompasses 1,000 acres of land as of now, with plans to extend to 5,000 in the next couple of years. In Luxembourg, the holding company is currently in its capital-raising stage and is run by just three people: Bardolia, Gramuglia and Singh.
Greenwashing, lack of transparency, lack of awareness, lack of trust, the double-counting of carbon credits… these are problems that blockchain technology is well-suited to tackling, says Nash FintechX CEO and founder Nida Khan.
For instance, companies make claims related to sustainability efforts all the time. Imagine, says Khan, if these claims were put on a blockchain. “There [would be] a legal proof against them in case they go back on the claim or try to deny it,” she says in an interview. Tampering with the data is hard or impossible, which also makes things like government audits much easier.
Khan’s idea is therefore a blockchain-based carbon market. “It’s not an easy task,” she says, explaining that her team needed to build the necessary code from scratch, since providers were not ultimately reliable for such a product.
In fact, according to Khan, the whole project is novel: “What I’m trying to do is completely new. It has not been done before.” There are six other companies worldwide, to her knowledge, who have similar ambitions with carbon markets and distributed ledgers, but Nash FintechX differs in its approach. Whereas her competitors are building new business products (e.g. crypto-tokens) that a corporate client would have to adapt to, Khan explains that her ambition is to integrate those existing processes into the product so as to ease the process.
To that end, Nash FintechX works with PDFs rather than tokens. Currently, the norm for businesses is to circulate a certificate of carbon credit as a PDF, so Khan wants to create an NFT of that PDF. “We can also break the NFT into different pieces,” she adds. “You can sell each individual part [of it].” That would be useful if a company wanted to resell a carbon credit to two or more buyers; without an NFT, you wouldn’t be able to break it up.
The startup has a team of three, plus an advisory panel. It launched in 2020 as a consultancy firm but has since switched to software-as-a-service, and has recently been selected for the EuraTechnologies incubation programme in Lille. Its carbon offset marketplace CNet0, a platform where you can store your carbon offset certificates as NFTs, has recently gone live.