The point is planting trees is a great carbon offset. But again, we also want to be encouraging people to draw down and stop emanating carbon as best they can, switching to alternatives with paper towels and paper plates and all of these things like getting off timber and onto hemp.

As part of our series about ‘The Steps Needed to Tackle Climate Change and Sustainability,’ I had the pleasure to interview Matthew Kochmann, Founder and CEO of Transcend. Backed by bold-faced names like Darren Aronofsky, Josh Kushner, Arielle Zuckerberg, and Matt Hill (CEO of One Tree Planted), Transcend aims to reforest the world in a unique way: by planting people and pets as trees when they die. Kochmann spoke to me about how this concept can help address the challenges of climate change and sustainability, during our conversation at the 2023 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.

From a young age, Matthew Kochmann faced medical and mental health challenges that forced him to confront his own mortality, awakening a lifelong fascination with how humans relate to the mystery of death. In an attempt to integrate a more accepting approach, he turned to nature.

With a Landscape Architecture degree from Cornell University, a track record of success as a serial entrepreneur, and experience as a land developer, it’s only natural that Matthew is bringing Tree Burial into existence. Creating values-aligned impact for the collective has always been his primary aspiration. Most notably, as employee #7 at Uber, he led the charge in transforming NYC’s antiquated and offline taxi industry, only to ultimately walk away from a life-changing amount of equity over ethical concerns. Matthew’s unique blend of regulatory and real estate knowledge, infused with a spiritually-inspired passion for the environment makes him the ideal steward for the Future Tree movement.

Thank you so much for doing this with us, Matthew! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up on Long Island, outside of New York City. I was a kid who was always kind of very curious about death and would always write creative stories and my parents would always make fun of me because the stories would always be like, I was walking down the street, it was a sunny day and I was playing with a ball, and then I died. It’s like every story had to end with death, which is a little morbid. For me now, that’s how every story in human history ends. So I think I was just attuned to that fact at a very young age.

As a teenager, I had a bunch of medical things, heart conditions and different surgeries and just a lot of time spent in the hospital for random things. When I was 14 years old they told me that my average life expectancy would be 27. And so for five years I was convinced that I had this thing and I had less time to live than most people. Then when I was 19, they undiagnosed me and said, it doesn’t look like you have it. It was kind of this weird experience for most of my formidable teenage years being under the impression that I was going to live a much shorter life than the average person.

Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become an environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?

It’s like a combination of being fed up with being a millennial sideline climate activist. Climate change, yes, let’s do something. But nobody’s actually doing anything because of the cognitive dissonance of just the extent of the problem itself. It’s like, great, so how do I do something? Where do I plug it? How do I as an individual do anything that can even remotely affect change? I think just kind of getting fed up with corporations and governments just not stepping up to the plate in the way that they need to.

It was Professor Dr. Tom Crowther’s research in Switzerland that if we actually plant 1.2 trillion trees, we could cancel out the last decade and sequester enough CO2 to offset the majority of the most harmful effects of climate change. Obviously there’s nuance and detail to that, but it was a single solution answer and quantified it. We don’t have to sit around twiddling our thumbs waiting for Elon Musk to invent some magical carbon sequestration machine. And we have the technology. It’s trees. Why are we not planting trees?

For me it was like that was an aha moment. Reforestation is a cause that I am passionate about and nature is something that really resonates with my soul. And then I had always known I wanted to be planted as a tree myself when I died because I had seen these tree pod burial things go viral like eight years ago by these Italian designers. It became clear that they were just industrial designers who were proposing a hypothetical thing and it wasn’t actually a real thing I could buy. And so the onus was on me to make it real if that’s what I wanted to do.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company, Transcend, is taking to address climate change or sustainability?

Ultimately the whole ethos of the company is around planting trees, and turning your body into a climate solution. But then it’s about going further than that. If everybody plants themselves as trees when they die, that would be fantastic. But hopefully you and I and other people our age aren’t dying for another 30, 40, 50, 60, or 70 years. Seventy years from now doesn’t really help the situation we’re in today. And there’s urgency there. So how do we accelerate impact forward? That’s when we started thinking about accelerated impact models and targeting more what the funeral industry calls pre-need customers, meaning individuals who are making a choice and setting up a payment plan to pay down their end of life expenses so that their family doesn’t get stuck with a bill over time. So what we’ve created is this payment plan mechanism where you can pay down your decision to be a tree, hopefully 40 years from now, 50 years from now, but you pay it down in small increments over time. Now, and at the time of decision, we planted a 1,000 trees today, and so what those 1,000 trees do is they’re sequestering carbon throughout your lifetime. That’s how you can really get some scale going.

If one in seven people decide that they want to be a tree when they die globally, we would be able to plant those 1.2 trillion trees. It gets real because death is the universal experience, it’s the customer journey that every single human is going to have to go through at some point.

The arching mission of the company is to help facilitate a healthier relationship with mortality by using nature as that teacher and really helping people shift from a perspective of I am separate from nature, to I am nature. When you can facilitate that type of shift, all of a sudden who knows what’s possible. The most powerful thing we could do for the climate battle isn’t a this or a that, but it’s a perspective shift. And so if we can get everybody to shift their perspective to identify as the planet instead of this thing that needs saving, that would make a huge difference.

And on that point, I’ll say one more thing, which is this idea of saving the planet. We are very against that in our branding, and in our copywriting. I’m always quick to remind people that the planet is going to be fine. We are saving our species. We are saving ourselves. Climate action is not this charitable thing that you are doing for something outside of yourself. The earth is going to exterminate us because we’re not living in harmony with it. Ultimately, climate action is an act of self-preservation and selfishness. And so the sooner we can rally around that idea, hopefully corporations and governments will start, which is very much in our self-interest.

Can you share lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?

One is definitely to start planting trees because that’s a very easy thing to do, and the carbon numbers on tree planting are astronomical. The numbers on an average basis is if you plant a 1,000 trees, those trees will sequester enough carbon to offset a single human’s average lifetime carbon footprint on a global basis. I should caveat that in the U.S. our carbon expenditures on an individual basis are 2x the global average, so we would have to plant 2,000 trees

The point is planting trees is a great carbon offset. But again, we also want to be encouraging people to draw down and stop emanating carbon as best they can, switching to alternatives with paper towels and paper plates and all of these things like getting off timber and onto hemp.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

It just needs to be your profit motivation to be intrinsically linked with your sustainability goals.

That’s why this business is so meaningful to me. We’re doing business and then we’re layering some sort of social give back component. You’re going to buy this thing, and then we’re going to plant some trees, to reward your consumerism.

Ultimately, our product is reforestation. It is taking a guaranteed carbon emitting consumer purchase that will occur for every single human, whether it be a traditional burial, putting pollutants in the ground, or cremation, emanating carbon into the air taking, and replacing it with not just carbon neutral, but a carbon negative option. For me, that is as holistic as it gets. You are providing a carbon negative replacement to a guaranteed carbon positive event.

It’s often said that nature doesn’t require us, but we require nature. Considering your life’s work in the realm of death and dying, how has this contributed to your understanding of nature and impermanence?

Nature ultimately is our biggest teacher, and teaches us that there is no such thing as death. And that’s kind of the most controversial thing that we tend to preach here as a brand. Ultimately there’s two deaths. There’s a physical body death, and then there’s what happens to the soul, whether you believe in the soul or not. Where does it go? Does it exist? What happens afterwards? This is one for spirituality and religion to answer, but it’s a fun conversation to have.

Let’s assume you’re nihilistic and you don’t believe in a soul at all and it just fades to black. Great. So then there’s no soul death to consider. There’s only a physical body death. And what we know about physical body death is that we are carbonaceous material.

Nature immediately spawns immense life. Fungus, insects, microbes, everything just immediately starts regenerating and transforming. Nature teaches us that this physical body death thing is a myth. It’s just a transformation. And so what does that teach us? It doesn’t teach us that we need to be fearful of death and the termination of this life. It teaches us that this experience is limited and we need to savor every fricking moment. And so ultimately that’s what we want to teach people and that’s what we want to get people to realize. It’s not about, oh no, we’re going to die. It’s, oh well, everybody’s going to die, so how do we infuse this moment with as much meaning as possible?

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I always love to give a shout out to Capsula Mundi, the Italian designers who came up with the tree pod burial concept because their design captivated my imagination, and the imagination of many. They’ve been very supportive throughout this process with me. I’ve also had excellent mentors and advisors along the way.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

One of my favorites is a Rabindranath Tagore quote that says, “The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.” It’s really powerful to get people thinking about action outside of ego action, not attached to the results that are going to benefit the ego.

What is the best way for people to follow you and your company online?

You can find us at or follow us @transcendtrees on Instagram.

We just sold out of founding memberships, but our email list is open and we’re going to be opening new memberships soon.

This was a very insightful interview, Matthew. We wish you continued success. Thank you so much!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.