After working to monetize standing forests in Congo, Mark Kroese retreats to the Cascades.
In Mark Kroese’s life, the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the alpine areas of the Cascade Range are intrinsically linked. That fact wouldn’t surprise those who know the Bellevue resident. After all, Kroese’s work in environmental markets is centered in Congo, and much of his free time is spent recreating in the Cascades. But for Kroese there’s an extra linking of those two seemingly distinct areas: The faraway forests represent an opportunity for Kroese to protect the mountains he loves at home.
Kroese is president of Jadora International, a Bellevue-headquartered company that sells carbon credits on global markets. Jadora’s business is based on a United Nations program called REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation). The program aims to protect forests by monetizing them as carbon sinks that absorb carbon dioxide. In the program, landowners enter 30-year contracts to preserve forests on their property, which allows them to generate carbon offsets, also known as carbon credits, which can in turn be sold to industrial polluters. Simply put, the land owners are being paid to not cut down their trees. This system incentivizes landowners in poor nations to keep their property intact rather than sell it to logging or mining interests. The REDD+ program requires that 15 percent of profits be invested in community improvements such as agriculture or education projects.
Kroese feels his company’s mission is imperative. About 50 percent of the world’s forests have been cut down, he says, and “once you understand that deforestation is basically just a symptom of poverty and that most of the world’s remaining large forests are in impoverished areas, you realize the only way to prevent deforestation is to pay people to not cut their trees down. Whether you believe climate change is man-made or not, I think everyone can agree that the world is better off with forests than without.”
Jadora, founded in 2008, has about 40 employees. Five people work in Bellevue, and the rest are in Congo running the company’s three projects there. Kroese joined Jadora last year after 20 years of working in management and product development at Microsoft. “I was looking for a ‘make-the-world-a-better-place’-type of opportunity that I could use my generalized business skills with,” Kroese says. “This is really an opportunity to do good and do well.”
As president of a midsize business, Kroese is a jack-of-all-trades. Some days he analyzes potential worksites to determine whether it makes good business sense to pursue them. Other days, he’s selling carbon credits — Jadora’s biggest customers are industrial polluters such as oil companies and airlines — or doing project administration work.
Kroese must keep tabs on the rapidly evolving carbon markets. To do this, he attends industry events and meets with other industry leaders while paying attention to UN policy shifts. “We spend a lot of time understanding how things are changing,” he says. “This whole business is like the software industry in 1980 … it’s a little bit of the Wild West right now.”
Kroese is excited about Jadora’s work but wise enough to know that a successful life needs balance. “Even if you love what you’re doing, sitting in an office on a computer is work. The payoff is when you get to go out and play,” he says. Kroese’s play takes place in the Cascades. When winter snows come, he can be found deep in the backcountry with his ski buddies.
Backcountry skiing combines many of Kroese’s passions. He started skiing as a teenager and loves endurance sports such as cycling and running. He is a skilled mountaineer and climber — he wrote Fifty Favorite Climbs: The Ultimate North American Tick List, first published in 2001 by Seattle’s Mountaineers Books. Kroese also is president of American Alpine Club’s board of directors.
“(Backcountry skiing) is a great way to combine my interest in doing a big cardio day with being in the most beautiful places on Earth and being with a great group of friends and getting in the best skiing of your life,” Kroese says.
Kroese went on his first backcountry ski tour in 1998 and instantly fell in love. “I was fortunate to have a great group of friends who really understood where to go and also had a great background in avalanche training,” he says.
Backcountry skiers use special bindings that allow them to move their heels up and down like cross-country skiers for the trip up the mountain, and lock their heels in for the trip down. They attach “skins” made of synthetic hairs to the bottom of their skis that let the ski glide forward but not backward. Backcountry skiers walk up snowy slopes, take off the skins, then ski downhill.
When ski touring, you’ve got to love the uphill as much as the down — backcountry tours often involve hours of climbing for a few minutes of skiing. “It’s all about quality, not quantity,” Kroese says. “I look at it as spending 85 percent of my day going hiking like I would want to anyway, but then I get this reward of 5,000 feet of world-class skiing.”
All that uphill time allows for a lot of thinking, but work isn’t usually what dominates Kroese’s mind when he’s in the mountains. “You think about all kinds of things,” Kroese says. “Sometimes it’s work, sometimes it’s family, but mostly it’s about where we’re going to ski, about conditions and avoiding avalanches, and the most efficient way to travel. There’s a lot to do, and you’re highly alert.”
Then there’s the reward. “When I’m going downhill, the world stands still,” Kroese says. “All I’m doing is floating on this great powder and enjoying the perfect rhythm of my turns.”
Kroese doesn’t have to travel far to find that feeling. Some of his favorite backcountry skiing is just a few hours from his home in Bellevue. During the winter, he tours around Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, Stevens Pass, Crystal Mountain, and Mount Rainier. In the spring, you can find him traversing the North Cascades off State Route 20. “Alpine Lakes Wilderness, North Cascades National Park, those are some of the most amazing mountains anywhere in the world,” Kroese says. “We take them for granted, but they’re right here in Washington.”
The connection between working in environmental markets and a passion for wild mountains is not lost on Kroese. Jadora’s global-warming mitigation work in Congo could someday help preserve Cascade winters.
“Every day I go out in the backcountry, I’m really thankful. It’s really nice when I go out in the mountains to know that at least Jadora is doing its part to keep those places pristine and beautiful,” Kroese says.