Real Leaders

Unlocking the Wealth of Gold — by Keeping it in the Ground

Can blockchain help save the environment? Phil Rickard thinks so.

Rickard is the founder and CEO of Nature’s Vault, a Canadian company that has developed a blockchain-based investment platform to accelerate the funding of impact investments to combat climate change and ecosystem damage. 

The firm’s initial focus is on deploying a “Legacy Token” to tackle the environmental impacts of gold mining. But Rickard believes that the same technology and vision can be a solution for other natural resources projects to mitigate climate change, water issues, and other environmental challenges.

The Legacy Token launched last quarter will monetize the preservation of in-ground gold deposits at a mine in the Thunder Bay area of Ontario, Canada. The token finances the preservation of gold in the ground, thus avoiding the environmental impact of physical mining. Rickard says it is the world’s “first zero-carbon gold preservation linked investment.”

Keeping gold in the ground represents a unique and needed opportunity for the industry. 

“The simple reality is that 50 percent of gold mined — all with negative environmental impact—is collecting dust in bank vaults. Leaving it in the ground is nature’s vault,” says Rickard. “It’s time for the industry to evolve, and blockchain technology enables us to hasten that evolution by monetizing the store of value of gold without destroying the environment.”

A Personal Evolution

The genesis of Nature’s Vault reflects a personal evolution for Rickard. A philosophy-major-turned-entrepreneur born in Calgary, Alberta, Rickard spent his formative years in Indonesia and has also lived in Boston and Singapore. 

Rickard credits his eclectic career in Fintech, artificial intelligence (AI), and traditional hard rock mining for giving him a unique perspective on how to integrate blockchain and tokenization into natural resources. But it was a conversation with his teenage daughter that, in part, spurred the launch of Nature’s Vault. 

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“I was investing in coal mining at the time, and my daughter said to me, ‘Can I tell my friends you’re a banker? It’s a bit embarrassing that you’re in the coal mining industry,'” he recalls. “I laughed it off at the time, but when your children are uncomfortable with your career, it makes you rethink your priorities.”

From there, Rickard visited the Lihir open-pit gold mine in Papua New Guinea — one of the largest in the world and a remarkable feat of engineering — but also a significant scar on the earth. “Seeing that made me think: Is there a way to realize the value in minerals like gold without digging them up?”    

Pistol Lake Mine, Ariel.

Here’s how the Nature’s Vault blockchain-based platform aims to tokenize the planet’s natural resources and unlock the value of gold assets at the Pistol Lake mine in Canada.

  • Nature’s Vault acquired the rights to an estimated 150,000 ounces of gold in the Pistol Lake mine. The mineral resource estimate was produced by an independent 43-101 Technical Report, the standard geological disclosure rule in Canada. Nature’s Vault has created “Legacy Tokens” representing an allocation of these unmined gold deposits. Each token equals 0.01 grams of gold.
  • Nature’s Vault will only tokenize up to 80% of the gold, ensuring that it never allocates more gold than is present in its deposits.
  • The initial Legacy Token offering to investors will launch in Q3 on a Tier 1 digital asset exchange and has already kicked off an oversubscribed private sale round.  
  • With a goal to achieve a net-zero future, Nature’s Vault is also exploring ways for token holders to earn carbon credits from avoided mining.

A Golden Climate Opportunity

The global mining industry is ripe for the disruption that Nature’s Vault suggests. According to McKinsey, mining is currently responsible for 4% to 7% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In addition, S&P Global estimates that mining one ounce of gold causes the emission of up to 800kg of greenhouse gases. While the industry is actively working to adapt to lower emissions, it’s also racing to scale up the production of clean-energy metals essential to the transition to a low-carbon future. Caught between these somewhat conflicting priorities, miners must rapidly find new ways to reduce their overall carbon footprint.     

Tokenizing ESG

Looking to the future, Rickard sees multiple scenarios for the Nature’s Vault platform. With a recent seed funding round, the firm’s focus is firmly on executing the Legacy Tokens. On the horizon, he believes tokens could be leveraged to enable ESG investors to buy and invest in a range of projects to address environmental and social equity challenges — from reforestation projects in Indonesia to carbon offsets earned from avoiding gold mining. 

“We are bringing our breakthrough approach to tokenizing ESG projects to help mitigate climate change in a transparent manner via distributed ledger technology and a platform that can be replicated and scaled up for future growth.”

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