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whEN thE pROpERty maRkEt StaRtEd tO cRumbLE ENtREpRENEuRS aNdREw SkEENE aNd OmaRI bOwERS REaLISEd It waS tImE tO bRaNch Out. thEy’RE NOw thE fOuNdERS Of gLObaL fOREStRy INvEStmENtS, a cOmpaNy that ExpEctS tO tuRN OvER uS$10m thIS yEaR

Little did London lads Andrew and Omari know in 2007 that an insightful business plan would not only net them millions, but also transform their lives, metamorphosing them into conscientious eco-warriors – offering the opportunity for individuals and companies to purchase carbon credits to help offset emissions – and sympathetic philanthropists, changing the lives of inhabitants in underprivileged parts of Brazil.


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“By teaching basic skills, hopefully we can help create jobs and give something back”

How did you “stumble upon” forestry investments? We already had experience of buying land without planning permission in both the UK and abroad. We had a particular interest in the emerging markets and an opportunity presented itself to purchase a plot of land with planning permission in South America. It just so happened that there was a timber farm based on the plot. We discovered that a lot of hedge funds in the UK and the US were buying agricultural land in South America and Africa, but the hedge funds were only offering this to other hedge funds and large investors. There was a gap in the market for the small retail individual that wanted to get involved in an alternative, sustainable, reliable investment. We also discovered that forestry investments had grown 20 per cent per annum in the past few decades, overtaking the growing rate of the property market in 2007. We bought a small plot of land in Mato Grosso in Brazil, sold it on and made a small profit. Since then Global Forestry Investments have gone from strength to strength. Have you always been environmentally aware? In our previous business we realised eco homes were going to be the houses of the future and began to look into fitting our properties with solar panels, but we moved out of the property market before we could implement this. ¶ When we originally came up with the plan for Global Forestry Investments we have to be honest and say our main objective was to turn a profit. We appreciated the environmental aspects of the business were important but we didn’t truly realise how much until we paid our first visit to Brazil. Meeting the local people and villagers, we knew we could make a real difference by establishing sustainable projects. Do you frequent conferences such as the Global Reporting Initiative? Yes, they have an important role to play in raising awareness of key environmental issues. It’s essential for individuals and companies to know that solutions

are out there to help offset carbon emissions. ¶ We are aiming to play our part by launching an internet channel called The Green Stream where we will be interviewing professionals and experts from green industries. We want to make it apparent to people around the world that we need to make a difference now. Did you have a business plan in place for Global Forestry Investments or did you make some of it up along the way? We took six months out to do our due diligence and research the timber markets in Brazil, Russia, India and China. ¶ We wanted to ensure we were fully prepared before moving into a foreign market and it was important to make that move with a business structure in place. ¶ However, once in Brazil, our structure did change. We were inspired by the local people and realised we could reach out to the local communities. There was a distinct lack of education in certain villages, the water supply was generally poor and even daily essentials were hard to come by. This inspired us to set the wheels in motion to build a school to teach the locals how to farm. By teaching basic skills, hopefully we can help create jobs and give something back. We met with other entrepreneurs that had established a school and we want to follow this model. Our first step is to create a village for our management team and workers, followed by a school and finally we hope to establish a performing arts school and sports centre. It’s hugely important that we invest part of our profits back into the country in order to continue our own development and the development of the local people. What percentage of your earnings are you giving back? Firstly, we will plant a new tree or purchase an existing tree in a protected area for every tree an investor purchases. Our new trees are planted in the heart of the Amazon that will remain completely preserved – effectively helping to reforest the depleted Brazilian rainforest. ¶ Secondly, 10 per cent of our profits are being given back to the local Brazilian communities.

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Are you in a position where you’re able to advise existing companies on how to develop their CSR? Yes, we understand that CSR is very important in this type of industry. We are always happy to receive calls and invite any heads of CSR out to Brazil to visit our nurseries and plantations to see our work at a grass roots level. Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace International says we have 65 months left to reduce carbon emissions before climate change starts to become irreversible. Do you believe Global Forestry Investments has bought a few extra months? We have a plan to own over one million trees by 2012. At present we are on target to have sold all our land in Para by July this year. From there we have an option to buy a large percentage of forestry land ready for development. Over the next 10 years we hope to plant more than one billion trees. Nothing is going to happen overnight but if we can act now hopefully we can work our way towards saving the rainforest by planting one tree at a time. How do you think governments should enforce environmental changes within companies? By creating new energy you can create more investment, technology improvements and, subsequently, new businesses and jobs. We have a moral obligation to the next generation so they can inherit a planet that’s sustainable and reliable. ¶ One way to achieve results would be to implement some form of tax. Governments should bring in a carbon tax, where they monitor how much individuals and businesses use, with a percentage then paid towards offsetting emissions. We believe there has to be more legislation and more rules in place. Can you tell us more about your investment scheme? It is basically a 25-year investment where individuals can purchase a lease for teak trees. We are partnered with a UK trust which is regulated by the FSA. In terms of the investment itself, outside of gold and oil, teak has been one of the most steadily rising commodities over the past 200 years. Historically, real estate, gold, stocks, and mutual funds have shown considerable volatility. Comparatively, Teakwood, has demonstrated much less fluctuation with consistent and sustained increases in value over long periods of time. The benefits to the investor are that you will yield a return of 10 to 20 per cent per annum and you are investing in a commodity that is giving

back to the earth. For every tree an investor purchases, we will plant another that will be completely protected. When you invest in timber, you’re investing in the lungs of the planet. Has the media been supportive? We have a great relationship with the press, although because green sustainable businesses are still young, there is a lot more that can be done to ensure people fully understand the extent of deforestation. ¶ More and more we are seeing media outlets get behind campaigns such as Sky’s “Rainforest Rescue,” and celebrities such as Lily Allen and Ross Kemp visiting the Amazon to raise the profile of deforestation issues. What water saver devices do you have in place? All our irrigation is done with 100 per cent natural rainfall. We know plantations are no true substitute for natural virgin forest, but we strive to operate the land as if it is a natural forest setting as not to impact the local ecosystems – this is one reason we have chosen to operate in an area of Brazil that has high rainfall averages.

You have offices in London, Dubai and Sao Paulo – where do you spend most of your time? In all three countries. We live in the UK but spend a lot of our time in the heart of everything in Brazil. Our management team takes care of the day-to-day operations but we fly out to Sao Paulo every five to six weeks. ¶ Dubai has a large carbon footprint due to the volume of construction work. Many of our clients in the UAE are businesses looking to offset their emissions and it’s certainly something that’s becoming more recognised as a high priority. What happens when you run out of land to buy? We currently own land in Pará in the northern region of Brazil. Pará itself is almost twice the size of France, so there’s a lot of land! We have an option to purchase a further 100,000 hectares next to the land we currently own. That would allow us to plant up to 100,000,000 new trees in the region for sustainable forestry purposes and a further 100,000,000 trees to help reforest the Amazon. There’s more than enough land that needs sustainability. The more we continue to expand the more we will be able to give back, helping to create a better, greener planet for everyone. www.globalforestryinvestments.com

interview: LyNdSEy StEvEN Photos: SuppLIEd

Andrew Skeene
After fAiling to mAke the grAde As A professionAl footbAller with uk teAm CrystAl pAlACe As A youngster, i found my feet in business. At 16 i begAn selling vACuum CleAners As A door-to-door sAlesmAn. from there i moved into the retAil seCtor, whiCh wAs followed by A suCCessful venture into the property mArket estAblishing A CompAny CAlled positive finAnCe. i sold my Assets before the reCession struCk And moved to estAblish globAl forestry investments in 2007 with my business pArtner omAri bowers.

Omari Bowers
i stArted out working with Jp morgAn As trAde floor support. i begAn to purChAse properties, renovAte them And sell them on for A profit. initiAlly i wAs Just helping friends And fAmily but deCided to quit my Job And work in property full time. i stArted my own CompAny CAlled the impetro group And wAs running my own lettings And mAnAgement offiCe by the time i wAs 28. it wAs At this point i met Andrew who wAs running A similAr business And we stArted working on proJeCts together.