Arrival of a new technology always stirs up a lot of emotions. It is either met with wild enthusiasm or fierce criticism. This is because of its disruptive potential which both creates new opportunities as well as threatens the status quo. This love and hate dynamic also applies to blockchain. Initially associated with Bitcoin it was criticised for high-energy consumption. Blockchain technology, however, also has its merits such as: transparency, independence and security. That’s why it started to be used in a variety of sectors and for a range of purposes such as secure sharing of medical data or supply chain and logistics monitoring. Our new Ask Me AnyFin guest, Toni Caradonna makes use of blockchain to support nature conservation communities. How does he do it? Find out in the Ask Me AnyFin interview.
Blockchain expert says: “Ask Me AnyFin.” and is happy to share his vision.
Toni Caradonna is a CTO of Porini Foundation, a non-profit Swiss-based NGO that aims at improving and accelerating processes around nature conservation. Their activities involve creating a global marketplace for Nature Collectibles, zero-carbon blockchain and extensive partnership with IUCN regarding the Green List and Tech4Nature.
Toni’s input is backed by his vast technical and entrepreneurial experience in the field of blockchain technology. He is a charismatic leader and lecturer skilled at strategic planning and change management. His educational background is in physics, mathematics and philosophy.
One of Toni’s outstanding achievements, which also marked a bright beginning for the Porini Foundation, was writing the first smart contract for the UN in 2018.
Watch the conversation with Toni or read the transcript below.
A baby foundation helping its older siblings
Małgorzata Łabanowska: Hello. The Ask Me AnyFin session today is with Toni Caradonna who is a blockchain revolutionary and the CTO at Porini Foundation, offering technological solutions for the good of nature. Hello Toni.
Toni Caradonna: Hi. Pleased to meet you.
Małgorzata Łabanowska: Pleased to meet you, too. Can you tell us about the origins of Porini Foundation and how you got involved?
Toni Caradonna: There are two important elements about the origins. One is more an anecdotal element. I helped to save a wallet for a person who said: “I have a problem with my computer. Can you recover my wallet?” I helped and in return he offered to give me something. I replied: “I don’t need money. But we are creating a foundation, so you can donate.” That’s the anecdotal part.
The other part is that my co-founder and CEO of Porini Foundation is Roman Eyholzer. He has worked with IUCN, which is a very big global organisation on nature conservation. Countries are members of IUCN, WWF is a member of IUCN… It’s very big and very slow, and its processes take a long time. Roman, who worked there, realised that by creating a foundation he could help accelerate those processes and that’s what he did. He also contacted me and said: “I am creating a foundation. Do you want to help?”
Roman explained that this foundation could help the nature conservation community which is not very tech-savvy. By introducing the technology to them we could empower them so that they wouldn’t be left behind with new technologies. That’s how it all started in 2017 or 2018. It was when I made the first smart contract for the United Nations. This was again an experience that made me aware of the challenges for big organizations when it comes to adopting new technologies. There is not enough clarity when it comes to processes and regulatory requirements.
Setting up the foundation in Switzerland was very helpful because we have a very clear regulatory framework. Not only do we know what we do, but also the regulator knows what we do, and we have a very clear framework when it comes to implementing the technology. There is transparency regarding tax and legal obligations, which is very helpful. So that’s the backstory of how the foundation was created.
It is a very young foundation. Usually, foundations are old and established and we’re a baby foundation. We were just at a meeting lately and there was a foundation who was sunsetting after 30 years of activities. We’re at the opposite end. We’re still just a baby.
Małgorzata Łabanowska: So you are IUCN’s special unit then?
Toni Caradonna: I’m not allowed to talk on behalf of IUCN (laughs). You have to ask them if we’re a special unit, but we work very closely with them. We were just at the IUCN World Congress which is only every four years. We work very intensively on accelerating programs. Absolutely! The main focus is on the Green List. There is the Red List of endangered species that everybody knows, but the Green List is a new list. It’s a positive list that has just been introduced.
Blockchain as a means of transport
Łukasz Korol: Great! I have a question about sustainable blockchain. You created this in 2018 and it sounds very interesting because the goal is to have a net-zero energy blockchain. Sounds impossible. How do you guys want to achieve this, or have you already achieved this?
Toni Caradonna: Yes, we have achieved it and it’s not only my merit. It’s not that I invented something that nobody has thought of before. There are various aspects when you think of blockchain. People often think: “It’s Bitcoin. It’s Ethereum. It’s a lot of energy consumed.” I always compare blockchain with public transport. There are airplanes, there are trains and there are bicycles, and depending on what you want to do and where you want to go, you choose a different setup for public transport. And that’s how we approach the blockchain.
We don’t have a public permissionless blockchain. What we have is a proof of authority, consensus algorithm based on Clique. This means that the nodes that operate the blockchain are not doing calculation heavy processes. Additionally, there are only very few nodes. As a result, we use the energy of 7 to 10 light bulbs. That’s really very little. And why net-zero? The energy that we do use is compensated for in CO2 processes.
I always compare blockchain with public transport. There are airplanes, there are trains and there are bicycles, and depending on what you want to do and where you want to go, you choose a different setup for public transport.
We also make sure that the nodes are operated in data centers that have renewable energy so that what is being used relies on sustainable energy. It is extremely important to use a technology that is gentle on energy consumption. For nature conservation organisations, it will be never possible to do projects on a public-permissionless blockchain, exactly for this reason.
When you think of CO2, the best thing to do is to avoid it. The second best is to reduce it. And the third best is to compensate for it. So we do the two things: we reduce and we compensate for it. We cannot avoid it. But if you compare our transactions, we are four times more efficient per transaction than the Visa network. It means that we even have an impact compared to the non-blockchain solutions.
Łukasz Korol: Thanks. Great.
Sustainable blockchain on a global scale
Małgorzata Łabanowska: In this context, is it possible to have a sustainable blockchain on a global scale?
Toni Caradonna: The simple answer is yes, but we need to consider some details. What does it mean “global”? Is it for the number of transactions and people? There are ways to solve these problems with the level two infrastructure on top of the blockchain that we have set up. Then, there are other questions regarding the understanding of “global”… Is it in several jurisdictions? That’s also possible.
When you say blockchain, it’s just a technology. The important question is what you want to use this technology for? I personally like the analogy of electrical power. You can’t stop once it is invented, but you can regulate it. In fact, you have to regulate it.
Our goal is to make an impact, to have more efficiency and more transparent processes because that’s ultimately the benefit of the technology. We don’t care about technology, but we care about the benefits.
We are very aware of the challenges for participants: users, governments and regulatory bodies. What we do is we make sure we are more restrictive with all the challenges when it comes to KYC, AML and PEP, and stuff. We do more than we need to do. Our goal is to make an impact, to have more efficiency and more transparent processes because that’s ultimately the benefit of the technology. We don’t care about technology, but we care about the benefits.
Typically, big global organisations have a lot of internal frictions. There are a lot of donation organisations. For example, if you donate something here in Switzerland, you have to give it to the Swiss organization. They take eight percent and they send it to their central organisation, wherever that is. They also take another eight percent and then, the money is sent to the ultimate beneficial organisation that has another friction. So it’s slow. There are a lot of frictions. Of course, all these intermediaries need the money to process the donation. However, if their work is a boring job such as filling out Excel sheets and it can be replaced by an infrastructure solution like a blockchain, I think it makes sense to use it. We offer transparency and then, efficiency. In terms of global scale, absolutely, a big yes.
NFTs as the fruit of the third wave of digitisation
Łukasz Korol: Sounds great. Another interesting solution that you offer is something called Nature Collectibles. It is based on the idea to use NFTs, non-fungible tokens to support conservation projects and to promote fundraising. Could you tell us how it works? What has been your experience with this particular solution?
Toni Caradonna: We call it Nature Collectibles because that’s something that I pushed on a bit. I don’t like these hype cycles that you have in blockchain. I’ve already been through a couple of them and it’s the end of the hype cycle. I think, at one point, they might be burned. There are a lot of actors without full ambition. That’s why we call them Nature Collectibles to highlight a different way of looking at NFTs.
My personal opinion is that we have had three waves of digitisation. The first wave of digitisation was about the digitisation of data. That’s when websites and emails were introduced and this change has had big consequences on organisations and people. Then, the second wave of digitisation was the digitisation of communities. This is about the growth of social media. Again, it has had a big impact on organisations and people.
Now, we’re in the third wave of digitisation and it’s digitisation of values. That can be monetary values, but that can be other values. And the fact that I cannot copy/paste Bitcoin, whereas I can copy/paste an MP3e music file, that’s something very, very powerful.
What we do is we bring back ownership over data. And that’s very powerful. If it’s non-fungible, it’s even more precise, so that you can identify the specific token. It’s all about digitisation. If you have a protected area that has 59 birds that need protection, you can identify and have a digital representation of each one of them. It cannot be copy-pasted and that’s the power of it. That’s why we use this technology.
Basically, what we do is we always have a conservation actor, for example, Nature Seychelles. It’s an organisation that has the power to have an impact. Then, we have a species. It can be an animal, for example, the Seychelles Magpie. Then, we have a location. Space is also important. Where is it? What’s the diversity of the space?
We want to have the digital aspect of donations. We think there is a next generation of donors and there is a next generation of nature conservationists. They are all digital natives. It’s all happening on your mobile phone. It’s important to understand there are more people on the planet that have access to mobile phones than people that have access to toilets. It’s all through the mobile phone.
People don’t understand blockchain. They understand apps and they understand webshops. We have an application where you can buy a digital representative, a Nature Collectible in a webshop. This purchase means that you have made a donation and what you receive is a collectible. You can have an emotional and effective connection to the thing which is, maybe, on the other side of the planet. So instead of having a receipt for your donation, you have a collectible.
We want to have the digital aspect of donations. We think there is a next generation of donors and there is a next generation of nature conservationists. They are all digital natives. It’s all happening on your mobile phone.
We have a lot of gamification things planned in our roadmap. When you have three of the tokens, for example, you can actually send them to us, and then, we give you a physical collectible card. We have a secondary market for these Nature Collectibles. The primary market is where we sell them. A hundred percent of these revenues goes to a nature conservation organisation. Everybody can see if their donation has arrived. The secondary market, on the other hand, is a bit more complex.
In the secondary market, what we do is we apply a Harberger tax, which is a kind of a concept. There is a Swede word which denotes total private ownership and governance by structure. Putting it simply, if I have a Nature Collectible, I cannot stop anyone from buying it from me. It’s always for sale. This means that if somebody is ready to pay twice the price of my Nature Collectibles, they’re gone. All I am left with is a trace that at one point, I did make a contribution. The buyer buys it for double the price, I get 110 percent of what I pay. So it’s a good thing. I make money. The other guy pays it and the difference between what I earn and the other person pays is distributed amongst the actors. What we create is the opportunity to have recurrent revenues for the protected area.
Summing up, a Nature Collectible is a digital representation that is unique to your donation. So it’s a receipt that can be traded. That’s a bit emotionless, but it’s really nice. Go and have a look. Currently, we have the Seychelles Magpie, then we have the Dark-edged Splitfin, which is a sweet water fish. There is also the Harpy Eagle. The species represented so far come from the Seychelles, Mexico and Colombia. We have lined up a horse that was extinct and is now reintroduced in Mongolia. We also have other projects that are lined up. If you buy the number one, you will actually see a very nice animation that has dynamics to it and creates an illusion of a hologram.
We have had a massive success with series number one. 50 percent of the 59 tokens were sold in 12 weeks. As for series number two, we haven’t even announced it and people were buying it because someone discovered it on the website. It has had a good impact. The World Economic Forum was writing about it and CNN was making a report about it.
Our initiative is not only about the money. It’s also about creating awareness of the problem in the media. There are a lot of rangers that work for free and they get rewarded for their work with recognition. I think that’s also a very important aspect.
Using blockchain to create value in the natural environment
Łukas Korol: Very interesting. I would like to take an opportunity and share an idea with you. Does it make sense to use a blockchain-related solution to address the challenge of planting new forests? Personally, I can see a similarity between some initiatives to plant trees and blockchain mining where you create some kind of a value that has not existed before.
Toni Caradonna: It’s interesting that you mention it… We are actually working on several CO2 projects and this is absolutely possible what you’re describing. I don’t like to talk too much about projects that are not live, but we’re quite far ahead, and they will be live towards the end of the year so that retail users can have an experience.
If you think about the CO2 sinks, of course, there are various standards of approaching this. For example, about our projects in Africa, planting a tree can be good or bad. If you chase away the people who live where you plant the tree, it’s a bad thing, of course. But if you improve the livelihood of the people who live where you plant trees and it makes sense, then you can even generate CO2 certificates and you can put them on the market.
There are a lot of bottom-up initiatives in the CO2 voluntary market, particularly, because it’s a small market: 300 to 400 millions, which is not very much. We’re in touch with some very powerful blockchain people who have assets and are able to buy the market up because of its small size so we expect a lot of drive there…
Let’s look at the tree situation, which is just one element of CO2 sinks and there can be many different cases. The tree situation is always about monitoring, reporting and validation. How can you ensure that this tree is still there in 10 years? How can you distribute the monetisation of the CO2 certificates over ten years? Usually, you work with satellite data. We work closely with Treeconomy, who also received a fund from us. It’s an organisation that helps monitoring, reporting, and validating.
We also have a process where we get local communities to have interactions with their mobile phones to support the creation of CO2 sinks. They don’t need a special tool to interact with the tree, just a phone… Our solution is not simply a QR code but something more sophisticated based not on NFT but on NFC. Yes, you can create incentivisation locally and globally to cooperate on creating CO2 sinks and ensuring that they stay sinks for a long time.
With diversity, what is more important: to save a lion or a worm? There’s a big debate about what is more important for diversity. Nevertheless, I think we can act now. We can have some measurement of which can be good or not, but, at least, we will have a figure that says: “That’s a diversity and it has a value.” We’re not saying monetarily, but it has a value in a community and it can be incentivised or used as an incentivisation aspect.
We also follow some projects in the gaming space where you actually create actions within a game which have an impact in the real world. We’re working heavily on this together with a different organisation. Coming back to the IUCN and the Green List… The Green List standard is a management standard. We are working on adapting the standard slightly so that it is used for a CO2 certificate, which means protected areas are creating CO2 sinks because of their work. All that needs to be done is one or two criterias out of 20 to be used and measured. Once they can be managed, they can be also monetised. We’re heavily involved in this. It’s not live yet but we already have the screenshots of the design and functionalities.
Łukasz Korol: My last question is about the project called Tech4Nature where you are in partnership with some technological companies but also with the Swiss National Park. We would like to hear more about this particular initiative. What is the goal? What is your role and the role of your foundation?
Toni Caradonna: That’s the project that I’m least involved in. Roman would know all the details. Basically, there is a lot of data to be managed in the Swiss National Park. Just to show you an example, there is one animal that is really rare and they have a picture of it that was taken in January. It’s only seen a year later because of all the necessary processes. The cameras are remote and you have to go and pick them up. Maybe a bear already dropped the camera and it’s somewhere else? It’s a very long and slow process to actually see the data. And then, there’s another process of analysing them.
I’m not allowed to speak on behalf of the Swiss National Park, but from what I understand, the vision is to have a live stream of what happens in the park. And to do that, of course, you need connectivity. That’s one part. And the other part is you need to understand the data. If you have a data stream, you don’t want to have a person looking at it. It’s better to use AI. These are the two most important objectives: creating connectivity and analysis to understand what is happening in the park. That’s the main focus. There are two smaller projects that I’m not involved in.
We’re also looking at some challenges. There are different categories of parks. The Swiss National Park is a non-intervention park. What they do is ensure that nothing is done. Currently, we are analysing the potential of the CO2 sinks which are created because of the non-intervention policy. We are trying to understand if this can be used as an argument and still have additionality and improve the livelihood and permanence of all the criterias you need for CO2 certificates.
The objectives of the next-gen conservation
Małgorzata Łabanowska: With your activities, you are realising what has been branded as next-gen conservation… Where do you plan to take your mission further?
Toni Caradonna: I have a strong belief that the biggest impact is if we empower the actors. Many organisations want to keep control. I, personally, want to give control away. It should be about empowering and enabling organisations to be active. There is such a big gap globally in so many things, but also in the know-how. If you adopt early, that’s really good.
I also think we should enable the next generation of people in conservation, including the people who are kids now. I want to give them a planet which is more or less OK. I want to create awareness and combine the playfulness and the joyfulness that kids have and their naivete to approach the world, to onboard them… Even when playing a game… That’s just one thought I have… why not have something that drops CO2 certificates at the same time you play?
I have a strong belief that the biggest impact is if we empower the actors. Many organisations want to keep control. I, personally, want to give control away. It should be about empowering and enabling organisations to be active.
And do it like with cat food. If you sell cat food, you don’t sell it to the cat, you sell it to the person who owns the cat. We have the same approaches with incentivisation. If a kid wants to compensate, it’s not the kid that makes a decision but their parents, and then you empower and enable actions through an influencer and by an influencer, I don’t mean the person who has 10,000 followers, but the person who lives with their kid at home.
We have a lot of ideas and then, all you need is partners that help you. We are also active with xDai Chain, which is also a very good tool in DeFI. We are very close to the regulator who helps us to make sure that we do things correctly.
I always see a planet in the universe, a blue planet that crosses this universe. I’m aware that I’m sitting on the planet and I want to make sure it can keep travelling through this beautiful universe. Currently, there is a big danger because there are so many people on the planet. It’s a danger for nature. If we can keep 30 percent of nature intact until 2030 that would be a big step. But this goal needs action and actions have to be incentivised. That’s my personal belief. I’m not speaking for Porini here.
I think the externalisation of costs, which is a consequence of capitalism, is a big challenge. We have an amazing tool now, an amazing new technology that can handle this challenge. We have concepts such as the Harberger tax or other concepts where we actually can create a win-win situation for nature, for us, and directing actions in a place that makes sense and where we can have cooperation and synergies between actors.
Complex and complicated problems
Małgorzata Łabanowska: Yes, I think this is amazing. And I think these two words: enablement and empowerment are the key words. It’s really important that we start to realise that sustainability should be embedded in business making.
Toni Caradonna: Absolutely agree. If I can make a call for action, I really think there are two situations in life: complex problems and complicated problems. Complicated problems are for example when you are building a plant. You need a good plan. You need good engineers. Then, if you know what you do, you can achieve your goal. Complex problems for example occur in the nature conservation era. If you put in a frog, maybe you think it’s going to affect the mosquitoes but then something else happens. This is complex because you can’t predict the results of the action. The same is with relationships. A marriage is also complex. You can’t do this and this happens.
You have complicated and complex problems and there are two ways to act. One route is when you say: “Okay, I need to understand the problem before I act.” Such an approach is good for a complicated problem. You need to understand a plant before you build it. But for a complex problem, like in nature, you will never understand a natural ecosystem fully. You are not able to comprehend the impact before acting and this mustn’t stop your actions.
Personally, If I have a complex problem where I don’t know the results of my action, I find it good to prototype. I make small steps, learn from them and then, I continue walking. What everybody, all the people on this planet can do is download the app, get the community token and just play around. If you’re afraid of blockchain and you think, “Oh, it’s new. I don’t know.” Just download the app. It’s called the Green List Marketplace. You can make a transaction, buy one sub community token and get the feeling. You can then say: “Oh, okay, now I understand. I have nothing to lose. There’s no money involved.” You can become a part of the movement this way, a part of the community.
Małgorzata Łabanowska: Thank you, Toni, for this inspiring conversation. This was our last question. It was great listening to your vision.
Toni Caradonna: Thank you so much.
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