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We found an inseparable connection between economy and ecology.

Jacob Hietink

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, the second best time is now. Fellow students Kasper Kupperman and Jacob Hietink (BSc Economics and BSc Business Administration) think it's about time to finally do so. Together they founded The Green Branch, a company focused on capturing carbon through reforestation and landscape restoration projects. They help farmers in (sub)tropical areas to become a sustainable farm with the addition of agroforestry. They also guide EU-based companies in building their climate strategy and taking the last steps towards carbon neutrality. The pandemic may have interrupted their plans in Brazil, but it certainly hasn't stopped them from moving forward.

Where did the idea to focus on trees come from?

‘’We initially thought of making a banana plantation; we thought of using the leaves and fibres for sustainable packaging and using those to transport the bananas to sell in the Netherlands. We came across some articles about carbon credits and discovered that there was an upcoming market for it.  We decided to learn everything about it. After a whole summer of reading articles and getting to know the carbon market, we started to find land and connecting multiple parties that were interested in these kinds of projects. That’s how the ball started rolling.’’

"We found an inseparable connection between economy and ecology."

What have you done so far?

“We found out that having the right experience and network in-house was crucial in pulling this off. We started networking with our initial business plan and ended up with two active investors that happen to be alumni of the Erasmus University. To have two experienced businessmen on board gave us the kickstart we needed to turn our ideas into reality.

“Next, we needed someone who understood the intricacies of rebuilding an ecosystem and contacted fellow students from the Wageningen. “They changed our vision from ‘we need to plant as many trees as possible’ to ‘we have to plant the right trees in order to restore ecosystems’. This turned out to be the only and best way to make long-term positive impact. This phase was most interesting to us. We found that there is an inseparable connection between economy and ecology.  This philosophy is characteristic for The Green Branch.

“At last we had to find land to start our first project. We were really lucky to find a large landowner based in Rio Grande do Sul who was willing to invest time and experience in this new way of agriculture: the coexistence of agriculture and forestry. This connection was the missing link and gave us the opportunity to really get to know the values of local farmers and landowners. Our pilot project will start at the end of this year. That is when we will be scaling our project in the province Rio Grande do Sul and also find new hubs in Mato Grosso do Sul.”

What were you able to do in Brazil?

“We started making plans for the trip to Brazil a year ago. We met with the farmer and got the process of designing a reforestation strategy started. We were in Brazil from in February and March this year. Arriving in Rio Grande was such a surreal moment, because we were finally meeting the people at the heart of all of our planning, and seeing our plans being realized.

“We had planned to stay at the project site in Rio Grande do Sul for a whole month; the first two weeks we would do field research and in the third week we would investigate local opinions and design the reforestation strategy. But, we had to stop prematurely due to Covid-19 so our investigation wasn’t finished. However, one of our team members from Wageningen University posted a questionnaire to the gauchos’ Facebook group and because everyone was at home, they responded – we probably got a lot more responses than if we had asked them in person! In a way, Covid-19 quarantine actually worked in our favour for collecting information.

“Going to Brazil was the right decision to make and gave us the opportunity to build partnerships with two big landowners and explore possibilities together with an international bank. Getting into contact with these landowners and national banks has given us the right perspective and leverage to develop multiple projects in Brazil the coming years.”

"It’s also important to celebrate milestones. We celebrated when our first big offer went out. And when we got to Brazil."

Where are you headed?

“We want to go back to Brazil as soon as we can, most likely in September. We work with so-called ‘hubs’. These are the first projects in the region that are making it possible to scale up and grow fast. Of course we are learning a lot from this first project. This will grant us the experience we need to help more companies and more farmers in the near future. We know we have the knowledge and capacity, now we need to turn it into reality. Where are we headed? 10.000 hectares in three years, storing over 135.000 tonnes of CO2 every year.

“We are building our brand and strengthening it with solid alliances and partnerships. We are working with a wide range of stakeholders, varying from commercial companies, to scientific institutions, governments and NGOs. We think there is so much to be learned from each other and it’s a waste of time and resources to reinvent the wheel. We work with the most amazing people, who really want to make a difference in this world. Together with our partners, we want to prove that profit and purpose can coexist in the new economy.”

Do you have advice for fellow entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

“Be bold. We just went ahead and started. You might have this great idea that’s hanging over your head and feel like it’s way out of reach, but if you start small, other people will help you build the stairs to get to where you want to go. When you follow your guts and try to learn as much as you can, you will eventually meet the right people. If you think you are too small to make an impact, you have never slept with a mosquito in the room.

“It’s also important to celebrate milestones. We celebrated when our first big offer went out. And when we got to Brazil. We think it’s good to appreciate the good things that happen because that gives you the drive and motivation to keep going forward.”

in addition to founding The Green Branch, Kasper and Jacob are RSM’s SDG Student Ambassadors for Sustainable Development Goal 15, Life on Land. As SDG Ambassadors, they take ownership of a project that has the goal of creating impact that contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Kasper and Jacob are on their way to making worldwide impact, starting this year in Brazil.