The Beginnings of EnVision Corporation:
In that same year, Miguel met American, Darion (Todd) Lemons, who was living and working in Chile. Todd uniquely saw environmental problems through the lens of an engineer and an economist, and because of this, he viewed environmental problems as “an inefficient misallocation of resources”. He believed that the root causes were economic and that the environmental consequences were simply the by-products of an economic paradigm in disequilibrium. And so, he told Miguel, he “was trying to develop market based solutions to environmental problems”.
Coincidentally, industrialists and environmentalists in Chile were, not atypically, pitted against one another in a drama that would become the springboard for EnVision Corp. A forestry company named Focura, S.A. owned over 100,000 hectares of old growth temperate hardwood forest in southern Chile, mainly “Chilean Cherry”, and was clear-cutting it for pulp wood for export to Japan’s paper industry. Environmental groups, including Greenpeace, had been protesting and attempting to block the operation for years. Todd approached the owner and asked a simple question: “why would you sell such a valuable natural resource for pulp wood?”. The owner, Hector Salgado’s reply was equally simple and direct: “This forest has been in my family for generations; Do you think I want to clear-cut it and sell it for pulp wood? The forest is full of diseased trees from decades of neglect and under-management because there’s no international market for “Chilean Cherry”. The American furniture industry tells me that “if it ain’t American Cherry, it ain’t Cherry. So, you tell me what else I can do.”
Todd eventually managed to broker a joint-venture between Focura, S.A. (owner of over 100,000 hectares of old growth temperate hardwood forest in southern Chile) and a Taiwanese flooring manufacturer. The Taiwanese market didn’t have the same biases about Chilean Cherry vs American Cherry and within another year, they had built a flooring manufacturing facility on-site at Focura, had employed an entire indigenous community and were select cutting – instead of clear cutting – the forests to make beautiful Chilean Cherry flooring.
The forest eventually was brought back to health through sustainable management practices, Focura’s profits increased exponentially as did the welfare of the surrounding community and Greenpeace and the other environmental groups moved on to other causes.
For many years, the company functioned as a consultancy, sometimes taking small sweat-equity stakes in projects, and eventually co-investing their own funds in projects.