Can you align short-term gains with long-term ecological and agricultural health? ReGen Network says it can

The climate crisis is worsening. But we have to bring business deeply into the solution. Regulators and governments can set the conditions for behaviour - and pushing them hard to do so is the job of radical initiatives like Extinction Rebellion. Many have tried over the last few decades to imagine “sustainable” practices for commercial organisations - but it now seems too little, and maybe too late, always bouncing off the bottom-line or shareholder demands.

We should at least explore - out of a wide basket of strategies - whether we can re-direct the profit-driven juggernaut of capitalist businesses, in a direction where incentives to save the planet seem to work in the corporate accounts.

ReGen Network (see the promo video above) claims to be a new system that can “align short-term financial gains with long-term ecological health”.

In short, they want to use very accurate agricultural sensors in the field, to generate information that is held securely by a blockchain ledger on line, which can legitimate rewards for companies that improve the health of the land they’re working.

Here’s their pitch:

In biology, regeneration is the process of renewal, restoration, and growth that makes cells, organisms, and ecosystems resilient to natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage.

There may be nothing of more critical importance today than the regeneration of the world’s ecosystems. Regen Network is a global community and platform focused on ecological monitoring and regeneration. By improving our understanding of the state of our land, oceans and watersheds, and enabling rewards for verified positive changes, Regen Network catalyses the regeneration of our ecosystems.

Regenerative land management practices create dramatic increases in biodiversity, water retention, and carbon sequestration. Regen Network monitors on-the-ground conditions and generates trusted attestations about the ecological state of managed land and water areas.

This is how their FAQ answers some basic questions:

What does Regen Network do?

Regen Network realigns the agricultural economy with ecological health by creating the global market for planetary stewardship. Using a distributed ledger and modern remote sensing technology, our team is creating new tools for how humanity relates to its environment.

How does your technology improve the ability to monitor ecological change?

We are creating the peer to peer infrastructure that allows anyone to propose a protocol for the accurate measurement of specific environmental outcomes. We then invite existing academic and scientific communities to comment and upgrade those proposals. Over time, there will be hundreds of different, well accepted, scientifically robust protocols for understanding, with a high degree of accuracy, the ecological impact on any specific piece of land.

Who will use Regen Network?

The World’s Farmers - 37% of the total land area of this planet is engaged in agriculture 

Researchers and Academics - access to a global incentivized peer to peer ecological data market.

Companies - to invest in their supply system resiliency, mitigate environmental degradation, or as an approach to corporate social responsibility.

Government Agencies - to verify and support their land management programs and achieve their climate accord commitments. 

NGOs - Nonprofits have committed to specific aims to which they are legally and morally obligated to. Every year billions of dollars are spent on ecological projects.

Why do you need a blockchain?

The Regen Ledger provides the project three key elements, without which Regen Network’s promise to create a network dedicated to monitoring, verifying and contracting or paying for ecological health outcomes would be impossible. 

Data Verification. Data provenance, and quality can be tracked and authenticated. 

Smart Contracts. Contracts can be issued for ecological outcomes, such as carbon sequestration or water quality between users on the network. 

Payments. Users can pay for data, and ecological health contracts.

There are some obvious questions here. What about the problem of “garbage in, garbage out”, when it comes to the data being sensed in the field? What are the strong and tangible cultures of trust that need to be in place, so that the environmental input - on which these businesses would rest - wouldn’t be gamed or faked?

We’d be interested in the answers. We know that this has been a possibility for blockchain for a while now. Vinay Gupta’s presentation at last year’s FutureFest noted that the software’s ability to map and record the carbon externalities in transactions promised to “save the world”. And we wish ReGen Network well (though they are not the first attempt - see 2015’s FarmShare).

But the old truths from the 20th century economist Karl Polyani - about markets functioning best when they are embedded in strong social and cultural relations - seem particularly relevant here. Blockchain is a technology which aims to “automate trust” between trading or exchanging parties. But to regenerate the planet, we may need a more fleshly level of trust than just automatic code.