​​Forests are a multitrillion-dollar asset. Vibrant Planet bets SaaS can save them

Vibrant Planet — which is creating an “operating system for forest restoration” — comes as a pleasant surprise, and not one I expected.

Climate tech, while relatively new, has settled into two camps: hardware and software. And while Vibrant Planet is definitely a software play — from its cloud focus to its per-seat licenses, it’s SaaS through and through — its end goal is different from many others.

The startup, which this week announced a $17 million seed round, isn’t just trading carbon credits or providing carbon accounting software. It’s trying to tackle a very real and very hard problem — how to first save, then restore, the world’s damaged forests.

Having been trained as a landscape ecologist, I’ve grown somewhat cynical that forest conservation and the free market can exist in a mutually beneficial relationship. From a markets-first perspective, forests tend to be either exploited or forgotten.

Yet Vibrant Planet clearly thinks there’s an opportunity in helping the world manage a multitrillion-dollar asset.

A landmark paper from 1997 estimated that forests provide $4.7 trillion worth of annual economic benefits worldwide, including fresh water, lumber, nutrient cycling, erosion control, and climate regulation. While there’s no truly global way to adjust the dollar figure for inflation, it’s basically equivalent to 15% of global GDP.