CEF Spotlight

Move Over Smokey: We Need Innovation to Save Our Forests—and Corporate Sustainability Leaders Can Help Speed it Up

DroneSeed autonomous reforestation operations

By Vincent Caruso and Nancy Pfund, DBL Partners

Fire season is here in the northern hemisphere, and it is shaping up to be another gut-wrenching year with 53% of the contiguous U.S. experiencing drought conditions.

To be blunt, 20th century methods of forest management, fire response, and reforestation have backfired. We urgently need new approaches that bolster the ability of forests to adapt and regenerate under rapidly shifting climate conditions.

Altering the current trajectory of worsening fire seasons will require a combination of robust climate policies, significant investment in forest management, accelerated economic decarbonization, and the application of new technologies to bolster fire resilience and fire recovery.

And we need them fast.

Fortunately, entrepreneurial activity in the sector has never been stronger. At DBL Partners, an early stage impact venture capital firm headquartered in the Bay Area, we hear pitches nearly every week from talented entrepreneurs applying new technologies in fire detection, air quality monitoring (like Wynd), and even autonomous and rapid delivery of fire retardant (like Rain Industries). We are entering a renaissance of promising technology development to protect and restore our most valuable ecosystems, and not a moment too soon.

Corporate sustainability leaders can play a pivotal role in helping promising technology solutions to scale via partnership and early adoption.

For example, last month Shopify announced its purchase of 50,000 tons of carbon removal from DroneSeed, one of DBL’s portfolio companies that is eliminating barriers to scale reforestation—an industry that has essentially been asleep for decades. Using drones, DroneSeed can reforest an area impacted by wildfires six times faster than hand planting seedlings.

Shopify’s willingness to step in as DroneSeed’s first major buyer is a powerful validation, one that will accelerate the timeline for DroneSeed to reforest fire-damaged areas while generating high quality, verified carbon offsets.

National Interagency Fire Center
By now it is common knowledge that hot and dry conditions driven by global warming, coupled with decades of fire suppression, have led to massive increases in the frequency and severity of wildfires. The eight largest wildfires in California history have all occurred within the last five years.

Lesser known is that the damage caused by these fires does not stop once the flames go out. Many forests no longer regenerate naturally, remaining as problematic burn scars. Millions of acres of U.S. land remain deforested following natural and human disturbances. Mudslides on these lands threaten water quality and property and are projected to increase. Crucial wildlife habitat is lost as formerly forested areas convert to grass or shrublands. 

Burn scar from the 2021 Dixie Fire following heavy rains and mudslides (USA Today)


Here’s how Shopify’s partnership with DroneSeed works:

  • DroneSeed is remediating the shortage of tree seeds and nursery infrastructure that has crippled US reforestation by vertically integrating, scaling seed collection, and adding new technology to nurseries.
  • DroneSeed’s ex-ante carbon credits provide upfront incentives for landowners to reforest their land. Landowners receive liquidity upfront for trees that successfully take root and are monitored over time.
  • Reforested land is placed in conservation easements held by accredited land trusts in perpetuity.
  • The credits are independently verified by Climate Action Reserve and third-party accreditors.

Shopify’s leadership demonstrates just how impactful corporate sustainability leaders can be in bringing innovation to bear on our most intractable environmental challenges.

An overzealous penchant for fire suppression last century helped get us into this mess, but we can’t help but feel that Smokey the Bear, the 20th century wildfire prevention icon, would cheer these new partnerships between corporate sustainability departments and technology startups.

As we all work to create the 21st century solutions to the climate crisis, let’s make sure that Smokey can retire in forests worthy of his legacy.

Nancy E. Pfund is Founder and Managing Partner of DBL Partners. As a pioneer and leading player in impact investing, DBL has helped to reveal the power of venture capital to promote social change and environmental improvement. Nancy writes and speaks frequently on the field of impact investing. She sponsors or sits on the board of directors of several companies, including: Farmer’s Business Network (FBN), The Muse, Zola Electric, Bellwether Coffee, Spatial, Wynd, Droneseed and, prior to their public offerings, Tesla Motors, SolarCity and Pandora. She also served on the board of SolarCity, on both the audit and compensation committees as well as the chair of the corporate governance committee, from 2008 through its IPO in 2012 and acquisition by Tesla in December 2016. Prior to founding DBL, Nancy was a Managing Director in Venture Capital at JPMorgan, having started her investment career at Hambrecht & Quist in 1984. Previously, Nancy worked at Intel Corporation, the State of California, Stanford University, and the Sierra Club.


Vincent Caruso is an Associate at DBL Partners, which he joined in 2019. Vinnie sources and performs diligence on investment opportunities, supports portfolio company management, and helps portfolio companies implement second bottom line practices. He works closely with several DBL portfolio companies, including DroneSeed, Pallet, and Bellwether Coffee. Previously, Vinnie was an environmental strategy consultant at CEA Consulting, where he worked with foundations, development banks, corporations, and nonprofits to develop and execute grantmaking strategies to improve environmental outcomes. He holds a B.A in economics and international studies from the University of Michigan, and an MBA from the Yale School of Management.

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