It started with a complicated, overwhelming problem. It became a simple, practical solution. TreeEra co-founders, Micheal Bernard Fitzgerald and Ryan Heal, began a revolutionary social enterprise just one year ago in October as an effort to help businesses and individuals reduce their carbon footprint. Their goal: plant one billion trees - together. Centred on impact and rooted in community, TreeEra has enjoyed incredible growth that most businesses only dream of.
This growth, of course, was earned through dedicated passion and hardwork. I recently sat down with Ryan to talk about the birth of this innovative yet simple approach to empower businesses and individuals to fight climate change.
Climate change. That's a big issue to tackle. How did you decide that planting trees was your solution to this overwhelming issue? What was the inspiration behind the brand?
We looked at climate change and thought just how overwhelming a problem it was. And the more we researched, the more we realized that something had to be done. Planting trees was something simple that anyone could get involved in. We asked ourselves "how do you make climate change cool and relevant?" We also wanted to match current buying patterns like offering a subscription model.
How did you come up with the name TreeEra?
We went through a few different versions including Trees + People. We decided on TreeEra because it was like we were ushering in a new era of trees.
How do you stay connected to your community to share this story? What inspires you about your community?
We have an incredible global community. We love being able to use social media to connect with them and have real-time conversations. Locally, we have been involved with cool events like Ride the Roof and Garbage and Coffee, which is exactly what you think - pick up garbage and then have coffee afterward.
What has been the most surprising thing about this work?
I think one of the most surprising things was the overwhelming support we've received this year. We never expected this response. It's crazy to me that people are now reaching out to us to collaborate or share our story.
We had our first plant this past spring! We planted 12,000 trees just north of Kamloops, B.C.
We grew internationally. Many of our subscribers come from Australia, Italy, U.S.A and other countries. We have a retail partner in the U.K. We also expanded our business, creating a retail program.
We developed a patch which people can buy at any one of our retail partner's locations and we will plant ### trees on their behalf.
We also have been able to partner with other local businesses where we plant a tree for every good or service sold.
I think one of the highlights for me was when we were running our Christmas campaign at Market Collective. There was a little girl - she was about 10 years old - who had $50 to spend on Christmas gifts. She went around to all the booths and decided that she wanted to spend it all on planting trees.
Tell me about some the challenges you experienced this year.
One of the biggest challenges is establishing credibility. You know, why us? Why would someone sign up for a subscription or buy our retail product? Our other major challenge was brand awareness. We spent very little on marketing this year, so garnering that exposure and awareness was difficult, but we managed to grow very organically.
What's the one thing that you want people to know about what you do?
It's easy to get off the sidelines and do something. The first, small step makes a huge difference.
What is one piece of advice that you would give someone looking to start a social enterprise?
Think about the net benefit for your community. Focus on the goal. The structure (social enterprise vs. non-profit) is less important.
Tell me three fun facts about TreeEra.
- The company was born at Monogram Coffee. It wasn't until we were taking up six tables that we realized we needed an office space.
- Our office is nicknamed "Treehouse" because it literally looks and feels like a treehouse.
- TreeEra was originally called Treedom.
How to get in touch:
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