Business Insight

Meet the Change Maker: Who Is Jessica Novia & How Her Startup is Revolutionizing the Fight Against Climate Crisis

Jinny Kim
May 3, 2024

From Disappearing Coastlines to Thriving Communities: The Journey of the Indonesian Startup

The climate crisis is spiraling out of control, with projections showing we're on track for over 2°C of warming by 2100 if drastic action isn't taken. In an era where climate change poses unprecedented challenges, innovative solutions are not just necessary; they are imperative

(Source : CarbonEthics)

There are a significant and growing number of startups in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, that are focused on developing solutions to address the climate crisis. According to BCG report, the number of climate tech startups in Southeast Asia has tripled between 2017 and 2022

Especially, Southeast Asia can be the hot spot for implementing nature-based solutions (NbS), because the regions, despite covering less than 1% of the world's total area, has the capability to provide approximately 30% of the global carbon-offset supply by 2030 through NbS.

*Nature-based solutions (NbS) : actions that protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems to address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, while simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits

(Source : DealStreetAsia)

In this context, it is worth sharing the story of CarbonEthics, a visionary startup co-founded by Jessica Novia, who also serves as its Chief Impact Officer (CIO). 

Launched with the ambitious goal of restoring the climate balance, the company is devoted to enhancing blue carbon ecosystems—key areas where coastal and marine environments like mangroves and sea grasses absorb carbon dioxide, thereby mitigating the effects of global warming.

By actively engaging in planting mangroves and sea grasses, developing nature-based projects, and providing carbon consultancy, CarbonEthics is paving the way for a sustainable future where business success is aligned with ecological and social progress. 

How could she drive a profound connection to the land and a strategic understanding of the carbon market's potential, making the startup a frontier for the climate action sphere?

Asia Tomorrow met Jessica Novia via video meeting and heard the inspiring story of the team tackling the structural problem of climate change with natural, societal solutions.

(Source : Jessica Novia)

Focusing on the Climate Crisis as the Chief Impact Officer

Q: Please introduce yourself and CarbonEthics.

Hello, I am Jessica Novia. I work as the co-founder and Chief Impact Officer (CIO) at CarbonEthics.

CarbonEthics aims to restore climate balance through natural climate solutions, in collaboration with pioneers of blue carbon conservation. Blue carbon refers to the carbon that coastal and marine ecosystems can absorb, including mangroves and sea grasses.

We expect that achieving our goal of environmental conservation through CarbonEthics will not only bring about positive environmental changes but also directly enhance the economic life and biodiversity of local communities.

Q: What exactly does a Chief Impact Officer do?

Traditional companies generally measure success solely by profitability. However, social enterprises also consider social impact as a criterion for success.

As the Chief Impact Officer (CIO), I am in charge in developing strategies that align with the company's growth objectives and in measuring our impacts.

As a co-founder in a startup organization, I take on more responsibilities than a typical CIO, I also engage in various roles including marketing, creative, product development, HR, and ESG Consulting. 

The reason I chose the title of CIO is that our team is working to bring about positive changes in the world and accelerate the arrival of the future we envision. I use this title to continually remind and motivate myself of this mission.

Q: I would also like to hear why you focus on the ‘climate crisis’ among various social impacts.

Indonesians are one of the most vulnerable people on earth towards climate change impact. Millions of our population live up to 50km from the coastline and has high risk of being displaced due to sea level rise. 

My hometown was on the coast and I can’t access my house anymore as it is submerged. It’s projected that by 2030, 80% of the area in my hometown will be underwater. Even Jakarta, the current capital of Indonesia, has become the fastest-sinking mega city on the planet, one of the reasons is due to climate change. 

(Source: GreenQueen)

Furthermore, Indonesia has the largest mangrove forests in the world, yet it is losing an area the size of New York City every year due to climate change. Having directly experienced this, climate change is a very tangible issue for me.

Natural destruction caused by human activities is also severe in Indonesia. It is home to the third-largest tropical forest in the world, yet it is one of the fastest deforesting countries in the world. It is disheartening to see this happening in my own country.

Ultimately, the destruction of nature affects not only the environment but also society and the economy. When nature is damaged, local communities immediately suffer negative impacts. We must remember that the climate crisis affects the environment, society, and the economy alike. We started CarbonEthics with a mission and responsibility to prevent this.

Discovering Business and Social Impact in the Carbon Market

Q: As an entrepreneur, I’d like to hear more about the business context of focusing on the 'climate crisis'. What is the business background that led you to start CarbonEthics and work as the CIO?

According to a McKinsey report, the demand for 'carbon offsets' is expected to increase a hundredfold by 2050. However, compared to global carbon emissions, the proportion of natural carbon offset supply is just 1.3%.

Indonesia has the largest blue carbon stock in the world and the third largest area of tropical forests. Yet, it also has one of the highest deforestation rates globally. As I mentioned earlier, as an Indonesian, I am deeply concerned about the rapid rate of natural destruction in my country.

I believe the carbon market can aid in natural regeneration. It holds the key to improving the overall living conditions of local communities and fostering biodiversity

Given this situation, I believe Indonesia could play a significant role in shaping the blue carbon market, and that CarbonEthics could have an active role in this. Therefore, I left my job at the time and founded CarbonEthics.

*Carbon offset: A mechanism where corporations achieve a certain amount of carbon dioxide absorption through forestry activities, which is then certified through an objective and transparent verification process.

*Carbon market: A growing market where carbon is treated as a tradable commodity.

(Climate tech market size worldwide, Source : Statista)

Q: Please elaborate more about CarbonEthics' business structure.

CarbonEthics is a company that aims to restore climate balance through natural climate solutions. We offer three main B2B services:

  • Tree Planting: Organizations can plant mangroves and seagrass alongside local communities to restore blue carbon ecosystems. This program can be conducted as part of CSR initiatives, branding campaigns, and events.
  • Nature-based Project Development: These projects contribute to creating healthy ecosystems and thriving local communities. They are suitable for companies with zero carbon emission goals and those looking to make early investments in affordable carbon credits.
  • Carbon Consultancy: This service helps companies and event organizers calculate their carbon emissions and adopt sustainability reporting.

Q: I heard that under CarbonEthics' leadership, the local community has planted 286,000 biota, absorbing 124,000 tons of carbon. That's a significant scale.

We set aggressive targets from the beginning because natural destruction is happening faster than natural regeneration, requiring us to move quickly.

As a startup, I am grateful that CarbonEthics has gained extensive trust from international, domestic, private, and governmental agencies. Also, my deepest gratitude goes to our team members who work passionately so we can be where we are now.

Q: What projects are you working on lately?

CarbonEthics is currently looking for a project financier who is interested to invest early to get cheaper carbon credit by funding potentially the largest blue carbon project in Indonesia. 

In March 2024, we conducted a blue carbon workshop in collaboration with the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries and Conservation International. 

Our current main focus is to accelerate blue carbon projects by finding project investors and impact funds.

(Credit : CarbonEthics)

How Do Startups Implement Social Impact Projects?

Q: Who works at CarbonEthics?

CarbonEthics was started in 2019 by three co-founders, including myself. We all have over ten years of experience in multinational companies and take pride in our complementary expertise.

Over the past five years, CarbonEthics has grown continuously since it has attracted young professionals and senior experts dedicated to making a positive impact. 

Currently, 20 members including forest regeneration experts, scientists, and storytellers work at CarbonEthics. All united by the mission to restore climate balance and improve the lives of local communities. In 2023, we just began our pre-seed funding round.

Q: You mentioned earlier that CarbonEthics collaborates with local communities for carbon offsetting and biodiversity conservation. How do you usually collaborate with local communities?

After we are sure of the ecological assessment, we perform a 'Social Mapping assessment' at the desk.

With over 17,500 islands, Indonesia has incredibly diverse ecosystems and cultural communities. We carefully examine the history, culture, and behavior of local communities through social mapping to see if they are suitable for collaborating with CarbonEthics. 

Then, we conduct site visits, map the stakeholders and meet with the key stakeholders. We ensure that the partnership gives mutual benefit for both the local communities and CarbonEthics.

(Farmers Development Training on Climate Adaptation & mitigation, Credit : CarbonEthics)

Q: You operate projects that require expertise. How do you collaborate with experts?

We contact experts in two main ways. 

First, experts often contact us inbound, having seen CarbonEthics on social media or at offline events. It's gratifying when they reach out to us. Secondly, we proactively seek out experts related to our projects before starting them. We search from our network, online profiles and actively seek them out.

For example, suppose we are developing a project applying a carbon methodology for mangroves. We first look for experts with master degrees in relevant fields from academia. We make sure the expert has deeper specialized experience than our team members in the necessary skills for the field.

Moreover, we ensure that these experts share the values that CarbonEthics espouses. We prioritize experts who pursue the same values in advancing climate science and related solutions and who share a similar passion.

Q: How do you measure the success of projects once they are underway?

CarbonEthics combines data from field teams and farmers' skills with manual work to measure, report, and verify results. The data collected includes carbon data, biodiversity found in the surrounding areas, plant growth and survival rates, and the presence of pests.

To further enhance our MRV*, CarbonEthics plans to integrate IoT and AI monitoring technologies into our operations. This will allow us to collect and analyze real-time data to gain insights into the health and productivity of conservation areas. Subsequently, the data will be integrated into a monitoring dashboard to transparently and responsibly show stakeholders.

*Carbon Emission MRV: An abbreviation for Measurement, Reporting, and Verification, referring to the 'greenhouse gas emission verification system'.

How Does Social Impact Lead to Business Impact?

Q: It is impressive that CarbonEthics aims to be a 'startup' while pursuing social impact. Could you explain more about your current business model?

CarbonEthics focuses on providing high-quality natural climate solutions. Currently, over 95% of our business is B2B. We support governments and corporations in engaging in climate action through tree planting and nature-based project development.

We also provide carbon consultancy to help institutions and companies calculate their carbon emissions. This helps CarbonEthics contribute positively to nature, local communities, and biodiversity while generating revenue.

Q: What does it mean for you, as an entrepreneur in Asia, to run a business aimed at slowing the climate crisis?

Asia, especially Southeast Asia, is globally significant for creating natural climate solutions and generating opportunities to sell carbon credits due to its vast tropical forests, peatlands*, and mangrove forests, which absorb and store large amounts of carbon.

Thus, Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, holds tremendous carbon stocks, making it a promising supplier in natural-based carbon trading. It suggests that Asia could be a valuable investment opportunity.

*Peatlands: An environment similar to wetlands formed over hundreds to thousands of years, where grass or leaves slowly decompose under plant layers in almost oxygen-free conditions. Because they contain more than 50% carbon on average, isolating carbon from being released into the atmosphere helps mitigate global warming.

(Credit : UNOPS)

Conversely, developing countries in Asia are often the hardest hit by climate change and sometimes lack the resources to address this issue.

Therefore, treating carbon as a 'tradable commodity' in the emerging carbon market is crucial for Asian countries to devise self-help measures. Asian countries can practically reduce emissions while earning revenue by selling carbon credits in the carbon market, as well as protect coastlines and land and conserve habitats for biodiversity.

Accordingly, naming the company and establishing the website in English was a strategic decision to reach global customers and investors with the details in English.

CarbonEthics aims to engage global corporations, investors, and customers interested in nature-based projects, particularly because Indonesia's natural environment is well-suited for creating natural climate solutions, which we are eager to highlight.

Q: Can you explain how planting mangrove trees contributes to local communities?

Planting mangrove trees can hugely benefit local communities, many of which rely on the ecosystem for their livelihoods. For instance, they produce derived products such as mangrove coffee, tea, and soap. Therefore, our tree planting programs aim to increase local income and provide more opportunities to sustain livelihoods, thus supporting local communities.

CarbonEthics believes that when local communities see tangible economic benefits, they will value and protect the ecosystem more. Hence, to empower local communities, CarbonEthics runs community development programs with various goals including climate conservation, leadership, and financial literacy, which include training in various skill sets and building individual capacities.

(Showcasing ‘Blue Economy Initiative’ at G20 Meeting in 2023, Credit : CarbonEthics)

Constant Approach as a Social Entrepreneur for Climate Solutions

Q: CarbonEthics regularly publishes online reports and articles. What is the purpose of creating such content?

CarbonEthics publishes policy papers, carbon market insights, online reports, educational materials, and content to stimulate climate action and raise awareness about carbon and environmental issues. 

This helps our audience gain a deeper understanding, enabling better collaboration with CarbonEthics. Consequently, this content has increased potential partnerships and participation both online and offline.

In fact, we utilized these materials at the Blue Carbon Workshop conducted in collaboration with the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries and Conservation International. We hope that someday, Indonesia, as a leader in blue carbon, could use such content to engage various stakeholders and other countries in discussions to build a forum for participation.

Q: What are the future goals of CarbonEthics?

Our short-term goal is to enhance operational efficiency and transparency through technology while expanding our tree planting programs through a subscription model. Ultimately, our goal is to use business power to play a central role in regenerating nature, especially blue carbon ecosystems.

By 2030, CarbonEthics plans to restore 8 million hectares of land, and through community development programs, restore biodiversity and create a sustainable economy for 50,000 beneficiaries. Ultimately, we hope to serve as a bridge connecting business with the regeneration of blue carbon ecosystems.

Interview by May Jang

Written by Jinny Kim (underdogs)


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Jinny Kim
underdogs. Media Manager & EO STUDIO. Freelance Writer