TreedomSanta Monica is at the center of a tech revolution. Hundreds of startups are based in the city, part of the Westside of L.A. County that has been dubbed “Silicon Beach.”

Our new weekly Tech Tuesday feature will introduce you to some of the cutting-edge tech startups cropping up in our back yard. This week, we chatted with Antonio Barzagli of Treedom.

What does your company do?

Treedom is a social-purpose technology firm aiming to fight deforestation by engaging individuals and companies in transparent tree planting campaigns. On our platform, anyone can plant and adopt a tree in a few clicks by choosing a species and exact location. Each tree is individually assigned to a user, photographed, geo-located, and made shareable online. With over 200,000 trees planted to date, Treedom has proven to initiate positive social, environmental and economic impacts.

We plant trees to absorb CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, to retain soil, reduce drought and preserve biodiversity. Each tree we plant neutralizes on average 1,000 pounds of CO2 in the first 10 years

Next Sponsor

In each of our projects we partner with a local NGO that helps us run educational and training programs for sustainable agriculture and conservation practices that stay with the local communities after we’re gone.

In some projects we are partnering with local schools to dedicate a portion of the farmers’ payments towards their children’s education.

How did you come up with the idea?

One day, in 2010, my two Italian co-founders Federico and Tommaso were working on a bio-fuel project in Cameroon.

There they saw a local community being paid $1,000 to cut down 2 and ½ acres of forest. Nobody questioned the consequences because in that area cutting trees was their primary source of income. That’s when they saw deforestation first-hand.

And that’s when the first light bulb was lit: “What if we found money to pay them to plant trees instead of cutting them?”

Back in Europe, the second AHA moment took place, (oddly enough while playing Sim City, what’s now called the Sims): “If millions of people are paying to build a virtual house, a virtual backyard where they plant a virtual tree, I bet we can find a way to get people to pay to plant a REAL tree, as long as we make it as fun and engaging as this game.”

That’s when Treedom was born.

Why did your company locate in Santa Monica?

Our headquarters is in Florence, Italy. When we were ready to come to the U.S., we looked at different places to find our home. California is where our ideas can find an equal mix of consensus and execution. In California, we chose Los Angeles, a city with so many problems from environment to infrastructure – a great challenge to stimulate us. And in Los Angeles we think Santa Monica offers that cluster of tech, ideas and people that Treedom needs.

What’s the biggest challenge your company is facing?

I am constantly thinking how to integrate Treedom’s products and services within the sustainability strategy or marketing strategy of great American corporations in a way that such corporations receives a higher ROI [Return on Investment] than we do at Treedom. An example is a great campaign we’re about to launch with a bank that is asking its account holders to go paperless, and planting a tree in their names as a reward. The bank’s ROI in that case is immediately measurable by both lower costs and lower environmental impact.

How could the city of Santa Monica help your company thrive?

Aside from the very important infrastructure that Santa Monica already offers, we think the city can be a great example for sustainability and social impact across the globe. I can see Treedom starting a conversation with the city regarding environment sensibilization and resident engagement.

Where do you see your company in a year?

Our biggest milestone for next year is the development of a gamification component to make our tree planting more fun and engaging. If you go on Treedom.net you can already calculate your personal footprint (the water you consume, the energy you use, the pollution from your travels, etc. expressed in CO2 equivalents) and offset it by planting a tree of a species and location of your choice. The next steps will be creating a virtual environment that is fully connected with our everyday lives, where a number of actions can be carried out to balance our emissions, trees can be received as prizes, gifted, planted or stolen from other users when abandoned.