Nicolas Metro is redefining forest preservation as a human development issue, one that reaches far beyond environmental conservation. By positioning trees as central actors in creating economic opportunities and addressing social issues, Nicolas develops simple ways for companies and local communities to find common ground where entrepreneurial solutions are encouraged to flourish.
The New Idea
Nicolas’ human development approach begins with reforestation, but has a considerably broader global vision. He brings together a ‘community of communities’ consisting of companies, local citizen organizations (COs), youth, schools, researchers, and the general public. Valuing trees becomes one tool for this community to work toward a set of shared principles related to health, security, well-being, balance, inclusion, respect, access to knowledge, and the potential to be a citizen changemaker. Nicolas’ Forest & Life Global Charter, which each member is a signatory to, not only sets out a vision for reaching our human potential, but also provides practical guidance and standards around proper tree planting techniques, the use of organic methods, and impact measurement among the community.
Nicolas defines the community’s success by measuring its “impact” and not its “results.” Instead of using traditional indicators such as number of trees planted and number of community members participating in tree planting projects, Nicolas works hand-in-hand with members to identify indicators that uphold Forest & Life’s shared principles. For example, for the principle of “security” a local community might focus on measuring improved access to water so women do not need to travel as far each day to get water. To collect and analyze these impact measurements, Nicolas is designing sophisticated reporting software, which he sees as having useful application for the broader international development community.
Nicolas recognizes that to sustain the Forest & Life movement he must create a greater consciousness around trees as important development actors. He is catalyzing a new generation of tree-friendly citizens by relinking individuals to forests and changing behaviors and attitudes toward trees. Nicolas has a strong focus on youth and always incorporates them at the start of each Forest & Life project. For the public, Forest & Life’s online platform provides interactive learning tools where users can gift trees and access basic tree information, such as “What is a tree?”, “Why plant trees?” and “What can you do?” 100,000 trees have been financed by the public since the platforms launch in 2011.
Since the beginning of the movement, Nicolas’ projects have replanted a total of 2.2 million trees across ten countries in sub-Sahara Africa, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, and France. Through its twelve projects to date, Kinomé has helped communities and companies value trees to become more economically and socially sustainable.
Forests are indispensable to humankind for food, energy, and medical drugs; there is no substitute for forests. Because of their economic value, forests are quickly disappearing without being replaced fast enough. Alternative sustainable methods for generating economic value from forests exist; however, they are unknown and underappreciated. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, less than 10 percent of the world’s forests are certified for sustainable management.
Forest communities are one example of the tension between economic value creation and forest destruction; 1.6 billion of the world’s population relies on forests for their livelihoods, including for heating, cooking, and subsistence agriculture. In these rural communities forests are used for short-term benefit without a longer-term management approach. Companies present another example of this tension between economic value creation and forest destruction. Although companies can have huge positive impact on forests, they often do not know how to change their products or value chains to better value natural surroundings. Instead, companies often see forests as something to exploit and not as a partner in value creation to protect and sustain nature.
Beyond forest communities and companies, there are other actors that could find value in forests such as education systems, researchers, and local COs. However, these actors lack a shared global vision to marry and guide their reforestation work. Without common principles, best practices or “industry” standards, their projects remain siloed with few incentives for unconventional collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Furthermore, while reforestation actors recognize that deforestation is intricately related to other social challenges such as nutrition, poverty, and government transparency, few of them actually measure their impact at this holistic level. For example, reforestation actors typically measure the number of vegetables grown due to replanting efforts versus the percentage of reduced rate of anemia among children. A reforestation movement that demonstrates the economic value of the forest beyond the cutting of trees must use indicators that demonstrate how the livelihoods of entire communities are improved for the long-term.
A reforestation movement with a global vision for human development would be more successful if citizens were more attuned with nature and the varied benefits of forests. However, these days society is confronted with a massive disconnect to nature. More and more, populations are living in cities and working in jobs that lack a relationship to nature. The majority of citizens view forests as something to be preserved and celebrated as part of history, rather than a central actor for problem solving.
For Nicolas, the problem of deforestation is primarily an economic one, with grave environmental side effects. Planting more trees is thus only the first step toward solving these larger economic issues; it must be paired with additional strategies. In 2005 Nicolas created Kinomé (meaning “eye of the tree” in Japanese) to bring together several approaches aimed at positioning the forest as a viable long-term solution to human development.
Nicolas first saw that he had to reverse the paradigm of popular tree planting. By realizing a tree’s full potential, Kinomé shows how intentional tree planting is useful by providing long-term economic opportunities for communities and companies while solving social problems.
An important target group for useful tree planting is corporations since they have a huge economic stake in forests. Kinomé incentivizes corporations to develop innovative products and services that value sustainable forest management. But this is not carried out as a traditional corporate social responsibility project; Kinomé projects the impact of a company’s governance combined with strategic development, which often directly involves employees. An example is Danone’s decision to change its sales and supplier process related to the chemical components of their yogurt line. Together with Kinomé, Danone was able to identify a tree gum ingredient found in sub-Saharan Africa, which is more efficient in fermentation and more nutritious than the starch compound that Danone previously used. To create sustainable production, Danone has established reforestation projects in Chad to train communities on the planting and collection methods for this particular tree element. Through this project, 10,000 hectares have been conserved and access to water has increased from 4 to 15 percent across three different towns.
Kinomé has also worked with Berto, a transportation and delivery company, to establish an innovative gas consumption reduction plan. Berto’s drivers, the heart of the company, are able to track their gas consumption through a monitor system placed on their dashboard. A percentage of money saved goes back to the drivers as a reward system. Then after a driver saves a certain amount of gas, Berto links this savings to financing the planting of a tree in a reforestation project in Peru; Berto’s drivers have helped to plant 40 million trees to date. To engage community members, Kinomé with a local CO has developed an income-generation project with Algarrobina fruit as part of this same reforestation project.
Nicolas’ work in Senegal has had significant, continued impact. Although this specific project came to an end, its impact continues: the community remains involved in the replanting scheme set up with Kinomé and a local CO. A group of women were given vegetable seeds, but 20 percent of the vegetable garden was designated for the growth of saplings. The community learned to replant the saplings to provide shade and generate new tree fruits, thus understanding tree planting as a solution to improve their daily lives. The project has greatly reduced the persistence of anemia among community members.
All of Kinomé’s reforestation projects have the underlying aim of creating “useful” forests, trees that develop the social, economic, and environmental capacity of communities. They also are a win-win for all actors involved, whether corporations, local COs or community members. Kimoné has set up the right incentives to ensure that the project will take on a life of its own after Kinomé steps out of the picture.
With projects established in twelve countries, Nicolas sees an opportunity to influence the culture around evaluation and measurement in the development field. Kinomé works with each community to identify realistic indicators that relate to fulfilling fundamental needs. For example, a reduction in dune erosion due to replanting can be translated into a decrease in the time it takes for women to fetch water each day. While the former is a result of tree planting, the latter brings about a longer-term impact. Thus Kimoné works with communities to rearticulate their “result” indicators as “impact indicators.” The next step for Nicolas is a CRM tool to aggregate and analyze results across all projects. He is designing a VRM (verify report monitor) software, which will allow communities around the world to input their evaluation criteria to then be analyzed in a central database. Nicolas plans to provide this tool on a scaled fee basis to Forest & Life community members but also to the broader international development community. Already, a pilot has been set up in Ecuador.
Kinomé is also working to break down the silos in research related to reforestation. Researchers get involved because they can use Kinomé’s projects as an important testing ground. One of Kinomé’s most exciting research initiatives is around the connection between forest, water cycle, and climate change. It is the first time that researchers across various fields are tying together the natural occurrences of rain, tree growth, and temperature. The research could have profound implications for climate change arguments against deforestation.
To bring all these efforts and actors together under a global vision, in 2010 Nicolas created the Forest & Life movement and corresponding charter to provide a set of underlying principles and shared standards around using reforestation to contribute to human development. The charter also results in a strong network among signatories to share best practices and methodologies across their varied local contexts. For example, local COs in India and Brazil are now exchanging best practices around setting up tree nurseries.
To build the future field, Nicolas sees young people as a critical group to bring into the reforestation movement. First, he includes a youth component at the beginning of each project. Nicolas spreads the message that, “If you can plant a tree, you can do much more; you can change the world!” Second, he links students to reforestation through his educational programs. Last year his partnership with a French school enabled 900 children to plant trees. Nicolas has also launched an initiative for gathering children (500 participated last year) via the “Planetary Week for a Better World.” Through these channels, Nicolas is making tree planting fun, social, and appealing among youth. Nicolas also activates the public through a Forest & Life web platform that uses interactive tools to make tree gifts and take forest-related action through mobile application gaming and social networking.
Looking to the future, Nicolas plans to be working across fifty countries by 2015, beginning with Argentina, Indonesia, and urban areas in South Africa (to show that trees can also be solutions for cities). To support this growth, Nicolas plans to open up a training school for his project auditors who go onsite to oversee project design and measurement. He is also working on creating an official Forest & Life label, with the intention of solidifying his network and creating a brand for commercial activities. Nicolas ultimately wants to create a social movement around tree planting that values trees as community actors in human development instead as a resource to exploit. Nicolas recognizes the need to find the right rituals and behaviors to drive and sustain this movement, and thus much of his work is driven by social, and not only conservationist, strategies.
Although Forest & Life is a for-profit entity, Nicolas is committed to social transformation. Written in Forest & Life’s statute is the condition that all profit must be used in an ethical way and linked back to its social mission. Nicolas currently relies on income from corporations (either through consulting or through partnerships with companies to support local community projects). He also receives funding from a French public research institute and collects funds from the tree marketplace on the Forest & Life Internet platform, which he reinvests back into Forest & Life. Nicolas plans for the VRM evaluation tool to be a future source of funding as well.
Nicolas comes from a generation of family members that worked closely with forests—both his father and grandfather were foresters. Nicolas decided to take another route and worked for twenty years in various Director of Marketing and Executive Director roles in multinational corporations where he gained a deep understanding of the business world.
In 2005 Nicolas decided to redirect his energy and experience to the problem of deforestation. He was experiencing a widening disconnect between the consumerist system he was a part of in the business world and the values of environmental sustainability and connectivity with which he was raised. This disconnect was amplified when he accompanied his father to meet with several forest specialists in Quebec and then soon after when he watched a movie about citizen responsibility to stop deforestation. He could no longer turn away8 from the quickening trend of forest destruction and the responsibility of individuals to counter it.
At the time, Nicolas was getting a master’s degree in Ethical Leadership and began to use this framework to develop the idea of Kinomé. Ethics and values are woven deeply into the Forest & Life framework and are the basis of Nicolas’ holistic view toward human development and his appreciation of the inherent value of trees as real actors in this development.
In 2008 Nicolas took his family on a year-long voyage around the world to further consolidate the Kinomé model. He visited with numerous local COs and participated in community development projects to better understand what was and was not working. These experiences directly fed into the structure and projects of Kinomé.
Through his former experience working in companies, Nicolas believes corporations are critical agents of change. The past skills he gained through his work in the for-profit sector have helped him to speak the same language as companies and to create strong corporate partnerships. Corporations will continue to hold a strong presence in the social movement Nicolas is creating around reforestation.