Planting one million trees was a major goal of Urth’s founders back in 2014 when they started selling camera accessories and planting five trees for each product sold. Now, thanks to an international community of photographers who are just as passionate about protecting the future of the natural world as they are about capturing the beauty of it, the tree planting counter has hit two million.
When Christian Gibson and Chris Gooley founded Urth, they knew they wanted to make the business an agent for positive change in the world. In the years leading up to Urth’s conception, Christian and Chris embarked on a two-year road trip through the lush landscapes and rugged coastlines of Latin America, which acted as a springboard for the business’ direction.
“I actually remember when Chris and I were travelling together, standing by a lake in Patagonia, and we were discussing everything we wanted the business to be. We knew we were going to sell camera accessories, but we wanted to do something more than just sell products.”
“We always felt passionate about supporting environmental causes. We believe the most important one of our time is climate change.”
Inspired by the time they’d spent in Latin America’s natural wonders, the pair discovered a new purpose in protecting the fragile future of the environment. From then on, the decision to include tree planting as a key component of the business was non-negotiable, Chris says.
“We always felt passionate about supporting environmental causes. We believe the most important one of our time is climate change. The excess CO² in the atmosphere, which has enormous systemic effects across every natural system humans rely on to survive. And we saw reforestation as one of the best ways we could tackle this issue.
We decided to use our business as a driving force for positive change and give consumers a chance to make a difference simply by choosing our products. It’s easy to feel helpless and disillusioned by the severity of climate change, so giving people the chance to plant five trees simply by choosing to purchase from us felt like a great way to make a direct positive impact.”
“Walking through one of our tree planting sites in Nepal, you almost couldn’t hear the people talking next to you because the wildlife was so loud.”
Since that decision, Urth has partnered with Eden Reforestation Projects to plant over two million trees across sites in Madagascar, Nepal, Haiti, Indonesia and Mozambique, reducing CO² in the atmosphere, restoring habitats for wildlife, purifying water sources, replenishing soil with nutrients needed for farming in the parts of the world that need it most, and providing vital employment to communities affected by deforestation.
Speaking to Debbie Crawford, the Chief Development Officer of Eden Projects, she explained that in these regions, local communities aren’t able to farm on the land that has been stripped bare by severe deforestation. As a last resort due to a lack of employment, they chop down more trees to sell as firewood, perpetuating a “vicious cycle” of deforestation. To reverse both the negative environmental effects of deforestation and the lack of employment it causes, Eden began employing locals to plant trees and cultivate healthy forests.
As a result of the hard work by local tree planters, funded by a group of like-minded businesses fighting for positive change in the world, Eden’s tree planting sites have transformed deforested open fields to thriving, biodiverse rainforests in a matter of years. Speaking of one of the sites that began as a blank canvas in 2014, Debbie reports that now, “walking through one of our tree planting sites in Nepal, you almost couldn’t hear the people talking next to you because the wildlife was so loud.”
“We have received so much positive feedback from the first day we started planting trees.”
Hearing success stories like these validates that consumers and businesses can have a real impact from afar. And from what Christian and Chris have noticed since making tree planting an integral part of the business, today’s consumers are eager to use their purchasing power for good.
“We have received so much positive feedback from the first day we started planting trees. It reinforces that what we’re doing is a really good thing, and it drove us to keep searching for ways to lower our impact and give back to the planet even more.”
“Our sales figures confirmed climate change is an important issue for our customers too. The business started doing really well from the moment we launched our tree planting initiative. So obviously customers like it because they were choosing us over our competitors. And we see that feedback directly. We get messages all the time over social media – people sharing with their community the trees they’ve planted from making a simple purchasing decision to support a brand that plants trees.”
“Consumers have a lot of power to make positive change and create the world they want to see.”
While business plays a huge role in sparking the type of environmental and social changes that are so greatly needed in the world, Christian and Chris don’t discount the power of consumers to shift things in the directions they want.
“Business can be, and should be, a leader in social and environmental improvements. I also think the age of ecommerce is creating a shift from distrust to transparency. And with greater transparency customers can quickly see what a company stands for and what environmental considerations it takes into account. So yes business has an enormous role, but I think consumers have a lot of power to make positive change and create the world they want to see simply by thinking about which companies they are supporting and being mindful of the impact of their decisions.”
With the social, environmental and economic benefits of combating deforestation, planting trees has been good for business in more ways than one. Christian and Chris have also noticed that having a purpose beyond profit unites the Urth team to strive for success.
“The whole Urth team feels like our work is bigger than solely developing and selling camera accessories. We’re passionate about creating the best possible products and knowing that we’re actively working to create a positive impact on the planet gives us a shared purpose. It makes us proud of the work we’re doing and excited for the company to grow because the bigger the company becomes, the more trees we’ll plant and the bigger the positive environmental impact.”
“Tree planting is one of the biggest motivators for me to come to work each day.”
When reflecting on the achievement of planting two million trees, both Christian and Chris are proud of what they’ve achieved so far, and see their success as motivation to keep working for further change.
“Tree planting is one of the biggest motivators for me to come to work each day. I remember when we started with Eden, looking at their other partners and thinking about what an amazing achievement it would be to get to one million trees. So to be at two million trees is incredible,” Chris says.
“Day to day, you get lost in your pile of work that you’ve got to get through but it is a great reminder that we’re doing good work. I also know our families are really proud of the tree planting, probably more so than the business. Every time I see my Mum she reminds me of what the tree counter is up to, which is cute. I’m just really motivated for the next twenty million trees! I think this is just the start for us,” Christian says.
“In the future we’ll know exactly what the impact of each of our products is, so we can offset the negative impact.”
With twenty million trees as one of the next goalposts for the business, Urth is also striving to make environmentally conscious changes to the way the business operates. A recent achievement was eradicating the use of virgin plastics in all products and packaging. Moving forward, the team is putting a lot of time into materials research to make sure each product has the smallest impact possible. Part of that process involves conducting a lifecycle analysis of each product, beginning with how the individual materials were sourced, the longevity of the product, and what happens to it once it’s reached the end of its usability. Christian says these sorts of thorough, sustainably-minded processes will be a big part of the business’ future.
“We’re about to roll out a system by which we actually quantify the environmental impact of every product, through a life cycle assessment. And in the future we’ll know exactly what the impact of each of our products is, so we can offset the negative impact of each product. We’re not sure exactly what that means yet, it might be planting more trees per product, but we’ll soon find out. I think our best work is still ahead of us.”