Student ‘wages war on greenwashing’ with startup that verifies carbon projects

Launched by 17-year-old Green School Bali student Freddie Hedegaard, Dungbeetle uses NFT technology to verify small-scale carbon projects.

Freddie Hedegaard, Green School student and founder of Dungbeetle
Freddie Hedegaard was inspired to launch Dungbeetle after learning about greenwashing in the airline industry. Image: Dungbeetle

A 17-year-old student has launched a new business that he says “wages war on greenwashing” in the voluntary carbon markets.

Named Dungbeetle, the company has set out to guarantee small-scale carbon projects that are unable to afford certification with large accreditors such as Verra and Gold Standard.

The Bali-based company says it can get around the stigma of greenwashing that has hampered the voluntary carbon market by working with authentic climate-friendly projects “driven by the right reasons, not by big profits”.

The company is the brainchild of Freddie Hedegaard, a student at Green School in Bali, who came up with the idea for his final-year school project.

He was motivated to launch a business to tackle greenwash in the carbon markets after learning that airlines were polishing their image through offsetting schemes. Last year, Dutch airline KLM was sued for claiming that its flights were sustainable because it offsets its emissions.

The company name is inspired by a hard-working insect that rolls, buries and eats faeces – a nod to the sort of organisations that it wants to work with, entrepreneurs who are prepared to “push sh*t up hill” to fight climate change, said Hedegaard.

“Often Dungbeetles can be found at the bottom of the financial scale, digging around the dung. They are so busy with their good-doing that they have no time for marketing, meaning no one talks about them,” he said.

Dungbeetle authenticates projects using NFT technology – that is, an immutable digital record known as a non-fungible token.

Dungbeetle finds a carbon project and issues it with an NFT, then sells the NFT to companies looking to offset their carbon footprint. Money from that sale goes to the project owner, and Dungbeetle takes a 5 per cent cut from the sale.

Selling entire carbon projects as NFTs is Dungbeetle’s point of difference. “Rather than sell individual carbon credits on demand, we sell the ability to claim the impact of an entire project using the NFT. This makes tracking individual project impacts and avoiding greenwashing a lot easier,” Hedegaard said.

Dungbeetle uses data from the projects, such as flowmeter data from the biodigester, to verify that a project exists. 

The firm has started out working with projects to restore Bali’s ancient forests, organically farm ducks and produce fuel from animal dung using biodigester.

Hedegaard is conscious of the high carbon footprint of NFT technology, but says the carbon-locking value of Dungbeetle’s projects comfortably offsets the emissions of the technology; one transaction on Solana, the blockchain his firm uses, emits three Google searches worth of carbon dioxide while one biodigester sequesters 50,000,000 Google searches worth of carbon a year, he said.

Hedegaard has partnered with entrepreneur Luke Janssen, the founder of software firm Tigerspike, Blockchain expert Cezary Olborski, and brand specialist Rebecca Yik, to get the venture off the ground. Each of the four parties have a 25 per cent stake in the company.

Dungbeetle has pre-seed backing from Mangosteen Venture Studio, a Bali-based impact fund founded by Janssen and Yik.

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