Tropical rainforests are home to more than half the Earth’s plant and animal species. The lush, green forests teeming with life once blanketed our planet’s equator, covering 14 percent of Earth’s land surface. In the past 200 years, humankind has done irreparable damage through deforestation, shrinking the rainforest footprint to just two percent of Earth’s land mass. While many of us realized the importance of saving the rainforest as early as elementary school, the enormity of the undertaking can leave us feeling helpless, because it’s a bigger problem than any one individual can solve.
That’s exactly what Daniel Pfeifer realized when he came up with the idea to crowd-source funding to save the rainforest. He founded ourpiece.com, an organization that provides a streamlined way for anyone to make an impactful contribution to protecting the rain forest. EO caught up with Daniel to learn how this innovative business model works.
How did you get the idea to “crowd-source” saving the rainforest?
The idea came to me a long time ago. I just couldn’t understand how―with so many people realizing the importance of protecting the rainforest―there is still so much acreage being lost each year. Of course, a single person can’t do it alone, but if we all work together, it should be possible. So, I decided I would take the initiative and make the necessary investment by starting ourpiece.com.
At ourpiece.com, we buy sections of rainforest and work with local partners to protect these spaces from deforestation and clearing. We do this because we want to protect threatened animal and plant species by preserving the ecosystem and living environment of indigenous people.
On our website, consumers can purchase a specific patch of virtual rainforest in very small increments―starting at just US$25 for a 25-sq.-meter area―and that land is then protected and will remain as rainforest.
How does ourpiece.com impact the local community and economy?
Once we established how individuals and companies could contribute to conservation, we needed a way to care for the land itself. I puzzled over how to develop a sustainable business model without damaging the rainforest. I finally had the idea to integrate the land into a nature preserve, and this business model is working very well.
Our first project, 40 hectares (about 99 acres) of biodiverse rainforest near Bahia Solano, Colombia, is integrated into an eco-park called Jardin Botanico del Pacifico. It provides the local community with jobs and income from the sustainable tourism industry, and also helps to educate local schoolchildren about nature and the importance of conservation. Tourists, biologists and backpackers often visit for several days, staying in the eco-lodge to experience the beauty of the rainforest first-hand.
Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur?
Yes. But I don’t see a huge difference between entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs in many cases. If you teach people skills in their jobs, deliver good products or services, or are involved in infrastructure projects, then your company benefits society. In my way of thinking, any business which enhances our communities and empowers people to live better lives can be seen as a social enterprise.
We’re fortunate to live in a time when at least 5-10 percent of consumers set aside a portion of their budget to benefit the greater good. It is our job as entrepreneurs to prove that we can create sustainable value from this available budget. When consumers realize that they can make a small investment to do good on a greater scale, they love it!
What lessons have you learned from this entrepreneurial experience?
I was surprised to discover how intense the competition can be for the money people designate for “saving the planet.” I believe it may be even more intense than in typical fields entrepreneurs enter. Therefore, it is critical to be very clear about your concept and unique selling proposition (USP) to capture a potential donor’s attention. Our key USP is that our organization operates without any employees so that our running costs remain very low. The money we take in is used to purchase land, which is protected by people who run a sustainable business on it.
How has EO membership impacted you?
EO membership is invaluable in both my business and personal life. I have learned key lessons: stay focused, never give up, and redefine my business model until it works extremely well. Improving areas of the company that are underperforming is another important concept that EO emphasizes.
Through EO, I’ve become very sure about my way forward: I will not waste time with projects that are not important to me personally, such as those meant solely to earn money.
What will the future hold for ourpiece.com?
My dream is that the ourpiece.com community will protect one percent of the rainforest worldwide. By conserving land around the globe, we should be able to preserve the biodiversity we enjoy now and sustain it forever. By working with other organizations, it should be possible to protect the entire rainforest that now exists and even reforest large areas to reestablish some of the rainforest footprint humankind has destroyed. That’s a project I’m passionate about: protecting our rainforests so that future generations can marvel at their wonders.