Investment Crowdfunding Is a Critical Piece of This Climate Crisis Intervention
World Tree President Cathy Key Describes Crowdfunding's Role in the Company's Remarkable Growth
Devin: What do you see as your superpower?
Cathy: My husband was given a fatal diagnosis—a cancer diagnosis—about three years ago. Told he had six to 18 months to live, which, by the way, puts everything in perspective. Because of all the work that I’ve done with myself and with my own self-inquiry, we were able to be with that diagnosis and continue work in the world. And my husband is now–we just got another scam result yesterday—he’s been clear of cancer for a year—clear of cancer for a year from basically “you’ve got six to 18 months maximum.” There’s a real feeling of celebration and delight and gratitude that we get to be in this beautiful world and get to make a difference with the work that we do. My husband also does work with World tree; that’s why I’m saying the “we.” So, I don’t know how exactly I answered your question in terms of a superpower. I just think we all want—in this world that we live in with the big challenges like the environment and then personal challenges like health issues—we want to arm ourselves with everything we can to develop ourselves as human beings.
“I’m like a total tree hugger,” says Dr. Cathy Key, president of World Tree. It’s the perfect job for her.
The only hurdle was learning to accept that the business model for World Tree anticipates cutting down the trees—over and over again. The empress splendor trees the company grows on farms not only grow about three times faster than typical trees, but they also regrow after being harvested.
“The United Nations says that demand for lumber is going to quadruple by 2050,” Cathy says. “If you truly try to get your head around that fact, you start to wonder where is all the wood going to come from because we can’t grow trees fast enough to meet the demand.”
World Tree founder Wendy Burton created the vision for the company, planting the fast-growing trees on farms.
Cathy contrasts World Tree operations with conventional forestry:
If you think about a tree we're familiar with, like a pine tree, there's a lot of pine grown in the south. It takes 25 to 30 years. When you cut the pine tree down, there's no regrowth. In fact, the soil is so rotten at that point you can't do anything with it because all you've had is like a dark pine forest.
We grow regenerative tree farms, so they're often mixed with other trees or crops. In the time it's taken to grow pine, you've got three harvests of empress trees. Just the volume of lumber that you're producing is a completely different scale.
From the outset, World Tree has sought to give ordinary investors an opportunity to participate. The company has about 300 farmers, mostly on small family farms, who grow trees. Pairing ordinary farmers and investors made sense.
Cathy asks rhetorically, “Why should these cool, interesting investments only be available to people who are already wealthy?”
Cathy notes that World Tree launched about the same time Regulation Crowdfunding was implemented in 2016, so the company has been using the new regulatory model for raising capital since the beginning. In August, World Tree completed a $3.5 million round on WeFunder.
“Every year, we bring in groups of impact investors, often the tree huggers like me and people who want to do good,” Cathy says. “We can’t grow that many trees in our own backyard, but the farmers grow the trees for us. Then when they’re mature—they take about ten years to mature, which is just crazy—when they mature, we sell the lumber for profit—hopefully.”
Cathy cautions that offerings are subject to specific disclaimers and says the company makes no guarantees. “You can’t say for sure,” she says. “Then we share the profits with our farmers and our investors.”
The World Tree community is developing its own culture. Cathy shared this observation:
We do a lot of events where we bring back together the investors and farmers. We've had some real tearjerkers where the investors and the farmers have been on the same zoom call together at the same meeting together. They're acknowledging each other. The farmers are so appreciative that they get to participate in the program. Then, for the investors, it's our dream come true to see our trees growing so beautifully with the farmers.
While Cathy is reluctant to identify anything she’d call a superpower, she acknowledges that she’s been able to cope with some significant challenges and still find joy in her life and work. She didn’t object to my calling it resilience, but it is more than that. Her strength includes self-acceptance as well. Forgive my using “personal resilience” here as shorthand.
How to Develop Resilience As a Superpower
Cathy has been leading World Tree while her husband has faced a grave health challenge. Three years ago, he received a terminal cancer diagnosis. Now cancer-free for a year, their future is much brighter.
Still, in the worst of times, she celebrated life and the opportunity to do meaningful work.
She developed the ability by observing happy people and asking them about their insights. Many, she discovered, had completed a course called the Landmark Forum. Seeing happy people report having taken the course, she signed up. She calls it “transformational.”
“That was absolutely key in this breakthrough from being a shy, unable-to-speak person to somebody who could,” she says. “It wasn’t like I came out with more courage; I was just more okay with being a bit of a mess.”
She learned to “stop trying to pretend everything’s figured out, and we’ve got all the answers.” She says, “I’m okay with not looking perfect all the time.”
She sees having “compassion for our own humanity as a starting point.”
To build on that foundation, she says, “Ultimately, there’s got to be some bigger goal there.”
“I’d much rather have a life dealing with a big challenge like climate change or the fact that half the world isn’t talking to the other half of the world,” Cathy says. “Those are big problems.”
Another guiding principle she suggests is “integrity.” It is essential to live “true to my word.”
By following Cathy’s counsel and example, you can develop greater personal resilience as a superpower, enabling you to do more good.