On Aug. 14, half of NEMO’s workforce reported for duty at a quiet grove of hardwoods near Barrington, New Hampshire, about a 30-minute drive from company headquarters. Each employee arrived ready to sweat. Their task was to build two bridges on trails through a brand-new, 1,500-acre forest preserve. So many employees responded to the call to exchange keyboards for work gloves that NEMO ended up having to turn some volunteers away just to keep the company running.
“It feels great to be keeping swaths of land that would otherwise be developed,” explains Brent Merriam, NEMO’s COO. The company didn’t secure the forest’s protections—the Southeast Land Trust (SELT) of New Hampshire won that victory—but NEMO donated money and bridge-building muscle. Proceeds from the company’s annual sample sales are donated to SELT. And now, thanks to a company-wide challenge that’s recruiting employees in a grassroots effort to reverse climate change, NEMO has doubled down on its commitment to preserve wild places – and the carbon those places store in the earth.
“Part of our mission [at NEMO] is to protect the places that make adventure possible,” Merriam says. But then, last April, all 24 employees read Drawdown, Paul Hawken’s analysis of the 100 most effective ways to “draw down” the escalating levels of atmospheric carbon that’s changing our climate worldwide.
The book inspired NEMO employees to take on a number of those strategies, at work and as individuals. Their company-wide Raise the Stakes challenge addresses five themes from the book: food, energy, land use, zero waste, and women and girls. This summer, employees completed three of their pillars: sourcing local food, re-thinking their energy consumption, and preserving and protecting .
Drawdown explains that ecosystems such as forests, bogs, and coastal wetlands trap carbon in the ground through their biological processes (also known as biosequestration). When these systems are disrupted by development, they release the trapped carbon into the atmosphere. The book then outlines how protecting, restoring, and creating ecosystems can reverse the effects of development. NEMO chose to get involved in three of the nine proposed solutions: coastal wetlands, forest protection, and afforestation.
Taking local actions: The areas around us need protecting
“We’ve always heard we’ve got to protect tropical rainforest,” says Merriam. But Drawdown emphasized how important it is to preserve forests everywhere—including in the company’s home region. New Hampshire also includes coastal wetlands, another ecosystem that plays a critical role in sequestering carbon. So, the next event in the land-use challenge will send NEMO employees out in kayaks to clean up Great Bay, one of the east coast’s most important estuaries and one that’s under intense development pressure. People who got sidelined from the bridge-building day get first dibs.
Of course, most NEMO employees were already committed to land conservation, because the gear designer attracts a lot of hiker/hunter/paddler/climber types. But reading Drawdown and participating in Raise the Stakes has focused that existing energy, says Merriam. “What Drawdown did was, in a scientific way, lay out where we could make the biggest impact,” says Merriam.
That means supporting organizations such as SELT, which is proving to be extremely effective in preserving natural spaces near Dover (where NEMO is headquartered). But it’s also prompted NEMO employees to discover new organizations that are promoting afforestation – creating new forests where there were none before. One of those is the American Chestnut Foundation, which will receive some of the money raised from NEMO’s next sample sale.
“I had known about the chestnut blight,” says Randy Gaetano, NEMO’s marketing content manager. The Asian disease has decimated the American chestnut trees that once lent their shade and their food sources to eastern forests. But then Gaetano heard a story on National Public Radio about the American Chestnut Foundation, which is breeding a blight-resistant hybrid that can repopulate our forests. And when he stumbled across a chestnut trunk that demonstrated just how majestic these trees once were, Gaetano felt compelled to bring them back.
“I was hunting on a friend’s land, and came across this enormous [tree] skeleton, maybe 8 feet in diameter. I couldn’t get my arms around it,” recalls Gaetano, who had spent two years in Costa Rican forests where such trees persist—but had never seen anything like this on America’s eastern seaboard. “It was really powerful,” Gaetano says.
“As forests get less and less diverse, you see fewer wildlife species, and what you do find is smaller because they have fewer food sources,” Gaetano says. That impacts him as a hunter and angler. But he also feels that promoting biodiversity in the nation’s forests does more than improve game stocks. “It’s a symbol of who we are as a people, and as a country,” he says. The United States “has a lot of protected land, more than most countries, and I think that’s very special.”
Merriam, too, hopes to keep the forest’s richness from slipping into history. “As a kid growing up in New Hampshire, I remember walking to school and stepping on chestnuts. They were all around. Now they’re gone.”
Yet with Raise the Stakes and its land use challenge, NEMO employees are contributing to the effort to bring American chestnuts back. Coastal wetlands and New England forests are also on their “protect and preserve” list. Because, says Merriam, “There are lots of opportunities to keep carbon in the ground, instead of digging it up and building houses.”