Poseidon Foundation hit the headlines recently when it partnered with Ben & Jerry’s to help the global ice cream brand offset its carbon footprint using blockchain technology. Founder Laszlo Giricz explains to Dan Robinson how it works and why his mission to help the planet is so critical
From Bitcoin transactions to buying property, blockchain is fast becoming a solution to 21st century challenges. Perhaps there has never been a greater hurdle to overcome than climate change – and it’s an issue the decentralised public ledger technology could also help unlock if the Poseidon Foundation has its way.
The not-for-profit eco-digital company has begun setting up key partnerships with organisations as vastly contrasting as councils, supercar brands and ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, integrating its blockchain-powered platform into their daily operations so they can transfer CO2 emissions into “carbon credits” that support global forestry conservation projects.
For the consumer, it becomes visible at the point of sale, when they are asked to provide a voluntary contribution of only a penny or two towards a cause that will be matched by the seller.
At the end of this is a goal for the organisations to be not just eco-friendly or carbon-neutral – but climate-positive, reversing the impact of climate change every day through their activities.
Poseidon Foundation founder and CEO Laszlo Giricz says: “Blockchain is a revolutionary technology with a lot of hype around it but it’s not going to save the world.
“But it’s a technology that can be massive if used in the right way. In our case, it adds transparency and traceability.
“It also has the ability to process micro donations easily and shows people who donate pennies where they go – something we often don’t get with philanthropic organisations.
“We don’t believe in reinventing the wheel but inventing new wheels and partnering with those who already have good inventions.
“So rather than creating our own project in the Amazon, we find the best organisations who run schemes already and provide a platform for people to back them.”
First, the Poseidon Foundation explains blockchain properly
Laszlo, 43, feels it’s important for the public to fully understand what blockchain is, citing a wide misconception that it is solely tied into cryptocurrencies – or even a type of cryptocurrency.
Instead, Blockchain is merely a database – but what makes it different is how it stores information in a distributed manner, rather than in a centralised location.
Validated information can’t be deleted or edited, making it more transparent and giving blockchain its USP.
“What’s great about blockchain is you’re keeping the history and that means you’re basically allowing people to verify all the history of data,” says Laszlo.
“It means you can’t really cheat. If I have 200 euros and give 50 to you, I can’t then give 200 to someone else because the transactions of data are stored securely.
“That’s important because we’ve heard about all the cheating with banking and other organisations where they’ve changed the data they’re storing.
“Bitcoin is an implementation of that. It has a large number of users and they’ve agreed bitcoin has a certain value.
“When people agree it doesn’t have a certain value, it crashes. It’s just like public opinion but all bitcoin is doing is recording the ledger.”
Laszlo admits the blockchain hype in business has led to an overuse by companies who “haven’t really thought it through” and don’t really need it – but he insists his organisation has a genuine use case for the technology borne out of his passion for the environment.
Life before the Poseidon Foundation for Laszlo Giricz – and why he’s scared for the future of Earth
For 18 years, Laszlo served as a business and technology expert at some of the world’s largest investment banks, with clients including JP Morgan Chase, Deutsche Bank and UBS.
Not a bad CV but he admits his financial career wasn’t aligned with his own values, saying he is “intimately concerned about nature and the environment”.
It led to him setting up the Poseidon Foundation in July last year. The team now stands at eight people, based in Malta but with a global remit.
“You forget who you are when you’re in industries like investment banking,” says Laszlo, a German-Hungarian who lives in Switzerland. “But that hole grew bigger in me so I realised I needed something aligned with myself.
“The Poseidon Foundation is fully committed to making the world a better place. It’s not-for-profit and all the money is used for social good – and I’m very proud of that.”
It’s fair to say Laszlo is a touch scared for the future of our planet, although his fear does not extend to exposing just how bad he believes climate change to be.
“Unfortunately, very few people understand what situation we’re in because it’s scientific fact through WWF (World Wildlife Fund for Nature) research that we’re less than a century away from a mass extinction of animal species,” he says.
But Laszlo points out to another WWF study published in March this year showing that, even if the Paris goals are met, the world’s largest forests could lose a quarter of their plants and animals by 2080.
At the current projected rise of 4.5C, the Amazon alone could lose 75% of its animal species and 70% of plant species.
At the heart of this problem is deforestation, with 18.7 million acres of forests – the equivalent to 27 football pitches – lost every minute, according to the WWF.
“The fact that most people walk around in the world getting on with their daily lives while there’s such a big threat to human life is shocking to me,” says Laszlo.
“I decided we needed to do something to give plant and human life a fighting chance, and the one area that’s very close to my heart is forest conservation.
“Trees have done a great job in getting rid of carbon from the atmosphere but they’re being cut down at a ridiculous rate.”
How the Poseidon Foundation helps forest conservation through ‘carbon credits’
The most obvious way to help this issue for Laszlo was by funding local conservation groups in the Amazon engaged in projects that demonstrably reduce or remove emissions.
He also saw how “carbon credits” – an allowance for countries and organisations to produce a certain number of emissions that can be traded when not used – were not working as the market was disjointed, unstandardised and relying on outdated technology.
Measured at a rate of one credit per a tonne of CO2 produced, credits are also created and awarded to projects that demonstrably reduce or remove emissions.
In principle, it’s a good idea, but Laszlo noticed there were plenty of issues.
“I realised the biggest problems were transparency in what happened to the carbon credits and traceability,” he says.
“Because buyers don’t trust sellers, they repeat their due diligence – adding expense, wasting time and risking double-counting,
“And as everyone is dealing in tonnes, micro-transactions are near impossible.”
He identified blockchain as a solution because it would prevent anyone from tampering with the carbon credit data and allow the credits to be divided into grams rather than tonnes to process micro-transactions.
It enables participating parties to look at the history of their carbon credit and the projects it has been spent on.
“It’s an opportunity the world can’t afford to miss,” says Laszlo. “For the first time, people will know exactly how much their purchases cost and just one tap on an app can set them right again.”
The carbon credits it offers do not readily exist and will need to be created by launching an emission reduction project verified by independent parties.
Customers are then given a chance to address their carbon footprint by making purchases in which carbon credits are used to offset emissions.
They can monitor their lifespan through a mobile app.
“Currently, these processes are almost entirely manual and take place in isolation,” adds Laszlo.
“We believe that our blockchain solution can streamline this process and provide a platform that will bring all the moving parts together, creating a paradigm shift in carbon markets.
“The idea of carbon credits is there are some unavoidable carbon emissions and in this transactional period, where you’re hopefully trying to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy, we’re giving companies the chance to do more good than they’re doing bad.
“So if a company is emitting 10 million tonnes into the atmosphere, they will buy credit for projects that save 11 million tonnes – making them climate-positive.”
How Ben & Jerry’s is working with the Poseidon Foundation to offset its carbon footprint
When Ben & Jerry’s serves up a scoop of ice cream, it costs the consumer roughly £3.20, according to Laszlo.
The carbon credit of that scoop is closer to 1p but by adding that single penny, it could offset the greenhouse gases left in its production – which could be anything from cow grazing in the field to the freezing process and road transportation.
Ben & Jerry’s can then lower the price by 1p and ask customers at the point-of-sale to add it voluntarily and match the company’s contribution to help environmental projects.
The scheme was launched as a trial at the company’s Scoop Shop in Wardour Street, London, in May, in which every scoop of ice cream sold contributes towards carbon credits from a forest conservation project in Peru led by Ecosphere+, which helps businesses to create and implement nature-base climate solutions.
Already, the pilot has protected 3,000 trees in an area equivalent in size to 200 tennis courts.
Laszlo says he is “very excited” by what it has achieved so far but believes it could protect 10 million trees – covering an area similar to 60% of New York City – every month if it was rolled out across the national business, something that could happen within the next two years.
“The reason our solution works is because of the micro donation,” he adds.
“We’re not asking customers to pay a lot of money or add to their shopping experience because that won’t work.
“It works in the same way they might add a tip in a restaurant – if they want, they can add it to rebalance their relationship with nature.
“If I asked someone for £1,000 to protect trees in the Amazon, they’d probably ask me to move on, but if I ask them if they’d be able to add 1p to their latte or 5p when buying shoes, I’m sure they’d say ‘yes, no problem’.
“It’s these micro-transactions that allow us to do this on a large scale and it’s only possible through blockchain.
“You could never process a transaction as small as 1p or 2p with a credit card because it costs too much.”
After the success of Ben & Jerry’s, Poseidon signed up Briggs Automotive Company (BAC) to make it the world’s first “climate-positive” car manufacturer.
The Liverpool-based supercar brand – which is behind the Mono, the only single-seater car for public roads – gives buyers the chance to make a supplementary contribution on the Poseidon blockchain platform.
Liverpool City Council jumped on board soon after to make a similar pledge to become the world’s first climate-positive city by 2020 by offsetting more than 110% of its emissions.
This would be the equivalent of protecting 136 million trees or 338,000 football fields, and could create more than 3,500 jobs in the Peruvian Amazon.
Sizing up the impact Poseidon Foundation could have
While important inroads have been made in the Poseidon Foundation’s first year, Laszlo knows more work needs to be done if it is to make a significant dent on the impact of climate change.
He says: “If we could get a partnership with the US government and it offset the military footprint then we could probably stop the effects of deforestation in a year.
“Similarly if we could get Amazon to rebalance its shopping footprint because the number of transactions that happen every day is incredible, so that would really have an impact.”
And what of the gloomy 2080 prediction by the WWF about the fate of the world’s plants and animals?
Laszlo doesn’t believe his blockchain platform, or any other single solution, will reverse climate change. Instead, a number of solutions are needed.
He adds: “Humans are like this. On the one side of a street we have a primary school and on the other side is a residential area.
“Every day, kids walk across the road and there’s no pedestrian crossing. Parents say for years they need traffic lights.
“One day, a kid dies in a road accident and then traffic lights are installed.
“Humans are oblivious to danger until it happens. People are really good at closing their eyes and ignoring the problem.
“The Poseidon Foundation could become a very big contributor to stopping deforestation but that’s less than 20% of the global green emissions.
“Humans need to understand this is a pressing issue and not something we can just ignore. We’ll only be able to save our species if everyone takes responsibility on a global scale.”