Photo: Tentree

One Brand’s Quest to Plant a Billion Trees

Outdoor apparel company tentree plans to plant 1 billion trees by 2030—and create products with a net environmental benefit.

On February 25, 2022, David Luba, the co-founder of eco-friendly apparel brand tentree, had his first child. He says holding his new son in his arms brought his life’s work into even sharper focus.

“My son’s name is Parker, which means protector of the garden or protector of the forest,” Luba says (the word has its roots in Old English). The name reflects Luba’s hope for future generations, and also acts as a reminder of his own mission: To protect forests worldwide by planting a billion trees before 2030.

Luba, along with tentree's other co-founders, Derrick and Kalen Emsley, first came up with the idea for their business in 2011 while Luba was in college at the University of Hawaii. At the time, the Emsley brothers, who were visiting Luba, ran a carbon-offset business. Basically, large companies were paying them to plant trees as a way to compensate for corporate carbon emissions. It dawned on the trio that this kind of restorative approach to business was something they could bring to the outdoor industry.

“Everything you buy has a cost associated with it,” Luba says. “The biggest question is who’s paying that cost? Is it the environment? Is it the people working in the factories? Is it you?“ Luba and the Emsleys wanted to create a brand that would be unflinchingly transparent about those costs. Not only that, but they wanted their product to have a net benefit for the environment. 

“We saw an opportunity to create one of the first restorative brands in the world,” Luba says. So, they launched tentree, an apparel company based on one simple promise: For every purchase, the brand plants ten trees. That’s enough to offset 15 percent of the average customer’s annual carbon impact—way more than enough to make up for the environmental cost of manufacturing a T-shirt.  

As for the transparency piece? 

Historically, that’s been the hardest part about tree planting. For years, carbon-offset organizations haven’t really been able to track whether or not trees have been planted. “Double-dipping” (situations where two different sponsors collect money for the same tree) has definitely been an issue, says Luba.

“There was no way to really say, ‘OK, here’s a field with 20 million trees and 5 million trees are tentree’s,’” explains Luba. That is, until now.

Tentree takes a tech-based approach to tracking trees. It starts by carefully vetting the areas where trees are being planted to ensure they’re having the most meaningful, longest-lasting impact possible.

“First, we make sure we're reforesting an area that’s going to stay reforested, and that it’s not federally mandated to get reforested already,” Luba explains. “We want to make sure the impact we're making is net positive.” Tentree also analyzes any benefits tree planting might have on local communities and animal species. So far, the brand has planted over 73 million trees in 12 countries—everything from mangroves in Madagascar to boreal forest in Canada.

Photo: Tentree

After tentree plants an area, it uses a sophisticated tracking system that links on-the-ground verification to blockchain technology. The system lets consumers look up the country where their 10 trees ended up and the type of tree that was planted so they know for sure that their purchase made an impact.

This tracking proved so successful that Luba and the Emsleys decided they had to share it. In 2021, they founded veritree, which offers that same tracking technology to other companies. Big brands like Samsung have signed on to use the tech in their own carbon-offset programs. Veritree is also working on a new project with Jeep, which will be using veritree for their new tree-planting program in national parks and other public lands around the world.

The other aspect of tentree’s commitment to transparency has to do with its actual products: activewear, lifestyle apparel, and accessories. This is important, too. After all, apparel production isn’t exactly the cleanest industry. Researchers estimate that apparel manufacturing produces up to 20 percent of the world’s wastewater—and more greenhouse gasses than international flights and cargo ships combined. For tentree, those hurdles just provided another opportunity to change industry paradigms. 

Over the years, tentree has earned carbon-neutral certification and reworked its supply chain to maximize both social and environmental responsibility.

“We really pay attention to the materials and factories we use,” Luba explains. Every factory tentree works with has to provide not just minimum wage but a living wage. The brand also relies on renewable and low-impact materials for its products—things like Tencel, an ultra-soft fiber made from responsibly sourced wood pulp, as well as recycled polyester, organic cotton, and hemp. All these fibers use less water, energy, and chemical inputs than things like conventional cotton or virgin polyester.

“Without us taking action, using smarter materials, and working to actively rewild the planet, the recreation opportunities we’ve had, and our parents and grandparents have had, aren’t going to be around forever,” Luba says. But, he adds, it doesn’t have to be hard. You don’t have to overhaul your life to have a positive impact.

“We at tentree believe the world can be changed by many, many people being environmental-ish,” he says. “Taking small steps—like bringing a cup to Starbucks, bringing your bags to the grocery store, or buying a shirt that plants 10 trees—all these things help. Big change starts small. Step by step, inch by inch, is how we’re going to save the planet.”

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.