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How one business plans to grow one billion trees in 10 years

'Trees are more than a tool in our carbon-offsetting toolbelt; they have the ability to inspire.' Image: tentree

Derrick Emsley
Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, veritree
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This article is part of: The Davos Agenda
  • A 'tree-planting company that sells apparel', tentree aims to plant 1 billion trees by 2030;
  • The company wants to be a model of what a planet-first, profitable business can look like;
  • Through community building and bringing companies and consumers closer to the impact of reforestation efforts with its tree-tracking technology, it believes it can inspire more people to take action.

At tentree we like to make a distinction: we are a tree-planting company that sells apparel, not an apparel company that plants trees. This difference has always been core to who we are as a business and, I believe, is important to consider when looking at the future of business and the role that trees might play in it.

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Back in 2008, when in high school, my brother and I started a company focused on planting trees to create carbon offsets. Four years in, we realized that it was too early to have a goal of carbon offsetting alone and this wasn’t going to allow us to have the impact we had hoped. At the same time, we had first-hand experience of the impact tree planting could have, both on the environment and on communities across the globe, and wanted to see this grow. Even more, we saw the impact trees could have on people’s perspectives. The excitement we were met with when talking about our tree-planting project was infectious.

What we came to realize was that people connect at an emotional level with trees. Trees are more than a tool in our carbon-offsetting toolbelt; they have the ability to inspire. Trees are a symbol.

At tentree, our mission has served as a continuation of this realization. We exist to plant trees – 1 billion by 2030. More than that, we believe in a world where businesses lead the change we need in this world by placing the planet and people first. For us, we do this by creating the most sustainable and ethical product we can while planting 10 trees for every item sold. Our product is our platform and we’ve been fortunate to support the planting of more than 52 million trees to date through this initiative.

We believe in going further. Were it not for trees, tentree wouldn’t exist. We are working to show what a planet-first business can look like and proving that it can be done profitably while also offsetting all of our emissions and ranking in the top 10% of B-Corps globally.

If we believe in trees’ ability to inspire every person to have a positive impact on our planet, the question is “how?”. We focus on two ways to unlock this desire:

1. Creating a community;

2. Bringing the impact closer.

Our community, numbering over 3 million across various social channels, focuses on positivity and simplicity as a means to empower people to take action. We want to inspire people first through their love of nature and second through their ability to protect it. Nature is our muse and, as David Attenborough says: “No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”

Community tree-planting in Madagascar
Community tree-planting in Madagascar Image: tentree

In our fight against climate change, we need community. The world won’t get changed by a million perfect environmentalists; it will get changed by billions of imperfect ones and the more we can do to create a safe space for aspiring environmentalists, the more change we’ll create.

Bringing people closer to the impact has also never been more important. We’re inundated with claims of “% of proceeds donated” or “organic/recycled/fair trade/ethically sourced” to the point where they have lost all meaning. People want to truly connect with the good their purchases are doing – if people are voting with their dollars, they want to see the outcome. We have taken a novel approach to this, in large part, owing to our experience in the tree-planting world. Every single product includes a “tree code” that is directly linked to trees that were planted at one of the projects we support across the globe. The customer can register their code, learn about their impact and watch their “forest” grow. We power this experience through our own in-house platform called Veritree, a tool we created to solve our own transparency problem.

The Veritree tool in action
The Veritree tool in action Image: tentree

For most organizations, when considering an ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) project, due diligence tends to start and stop with a round of questions – what we like to call “cover your ass”. For us, we believed we could go further, not just for our own sake, but for the sake of the entire reforestation movement. Veritree allows global reforestation companies to gather on-the-ground data to back up their claims while also serving as a “TreERP” (ERP stands for enterprise resource planning) to ensure they can manage their inventory and allocation of trees effectively. In addition, the tool provides the donors with incredibly detailed, transparent data to understand just how impactful their funding truly was.

The true goal of Veritree is to bring the life-changing impact of trees to life, because, more than anything, that’s what tree planting is about – changing lives. Changing lives for the people that trees inspire to take action and changing lives for those individuals across the globe whose lives can be positively impacted through reforestation efforts. We’ve seen these impacts first-hand, whether it be the thousands of jobs created in Madagascar or the hundreds of farmers in Senegal lifted out of unsustainable farming practices. Tree planting has the power to change the world.

So this brings us to today, on the cusp of Davos Agenda 2021, our big pledge for tree planting over the next decade in partnership with the family: 1 billion trees.

Why a billion? For one thing, we know that we can accomplish this and, through doing so, we believe we can inspire individuals and companies from across the globe to pick up the torch and take action. We will take advantage of our technology, bring more transparency to global efforts, be an evangelist for planet-first companies and partner with incredible planting organizations from all across the globe. We believe in a world where businesses can be pacesetters, where companies are no longer looked at as the problem and, instead, can lead the conversation on restoring our planet and make it easier for consumers across the globe to take that first step.

At the end of the day, 1 billion is just a number. It’s a big, ostentatious goal but it doesn’t really mean anything. The billionth tree is just as important as the first tree and just as important as the millionth tree. Really, the most important tree of all is the next one.

This article was first published by Forbes.

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Related topics:
Forum InstitutionalNature and BiodiversityClimate Action
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