WASTE NO POTENTIAL - EPISODE 1
Discover how saving the right tool for the right time is an empowering way to maximize potential.
Turning tees into trees.
Greg Malpass saves screws. Why? As a successful CEO, he knows every screw, idea, code snippet, or passion has the potential to be useful, it’s just a matter of having it when you need it. That’s why “Save Screws” is a popular motto at his company, Traction on Demand.
Entrepreneur Derrick Emsley knows the same. When his first business venture didn’t get off the ground, he didn’t scrap the idea completely. He took the valuable lessons he learned and applied them to a different concept.
While still in high school, Emsley and his brother started a company that maximized farmers' unused land by planting trees and selling carbon offsets. It became apparent that what started as a great idea wasn’t going to develop into a feasible business model. However, they realized planting trees was a passion. Plus they had become entrenched in the tree-planting community — a community that was not only helping to reforest the planet but was having huge social impact all over the globe. That's when they sowed the seed of ‘tentree', an apparel company that plants ten trees, somewhere in the world, for every item sold.
In this episode, you will hear how Emsley took his save screws moment and turned it into a sustainable business that makes clothing out of some of the most eco-friendly material on the planet; led reforestation efforts in remote areas that helped lift a community out of poverty and servitude; and is moving into a world of transparent reforestation.
An inspiration to anyone with a passion to blend commerce and sustainability, Emsley’s story is about adaptability, recognizing opportunity, and keeping passion in frame. With the addition of Greg Malpass’s insights on maximizing potential, this episode will have any listener saying, “oh!”, “wow!”, and “ahhh…”
- 04:14 - 06:40: “The humble roots of how Derrick got started planting trees”
- 09:43 - 11:30: “Traction on Demand founder Greg Malpass explains what ‘Save Screws’ means.”
- 14:30 - 17:37: “Derrick addresses how to solve the problem of your business being at odds with your values.”
- 19:34 - 22:04: “Derrick shares what making an impact in Madagascar looks like.”
[00:00:00] Derrick Emsley: It was, you know, the world's ending, the ice caps are melting. The forests are burning and it was, it was look at, look at how much the world is at it, rather than look at what you can do as an individual.
Not really knowing much about this. We were like, you know what sounds good? Trees
[00:00:31] Alexandra Samuel: It's daunting. There's so much pressure today on climate change and our ability to fight, it feels like a desperate struggle. At least that's how Derrick the voice you just heard felt while he was in high school. But for him, it was also the moment when he spotted something, an opportunity or just a glimmering of potential.
Hi, I'm Alexandra Samuel. I'm the host of this show Waste No Potential sponsored by Traction on Demand. Today, I'm going to launch us into the incredible journey of Derrick Emsley from his roots planting trees in rural Saskatchewan, all the way to founding an internationally recognized apparel brand. That's pushing to be one of the most sustainability focused companies around. But first, let me introduce myself and tell you what you can expect to hear in this show. Waste No Potential is about exactly that learning not to let potential slip away and each episode we're going to learn from the pros on how to spot it, wherever it might be hiding. As for me, well, I'm a business journalist who's fascinated by this entire idea. I mean, I love those moments where you find out how somebody was able to do something a little bit better or even just differently. And then it ended up having a big impact. So as you may have noticed, we're calling this episode, saved screws. Why, what does 'Save Screws' me? Well, we're going to get into that a little bit later on, but briefly let me just put it this way. So let's say you buy a pack of screws and you don't use them all. Well, you don't just throw them away. You put them away, right? We all have cupboard where there's piles of hardware. Because eventually sooner or later, you know, you're going to need them and then there they'll be. The right tool at exactly the right time. Well, that's what this episode is all about holding onto the right thing, the right idea, whatever it is, you might need somewhere down the line, even if you can't see it just yet. It's about the art of scanning your horizon for the thing you might've overlooked and then pulling just the right idea, just the right tool off your shelf. So you can make your life a little bit better. It sounds simple, but 'Save Screws' as an important mindset that can have a profound impact on businesses and on individuals. We're going to unpack that more in a little bit, but first let's meet our guest Derrick Emsley he's the founder of the clothing, Tentree.
I'd love to just start by asking you to tell us a little bit about Tentree. I mean, what, what is it for listeners who don't know the brand?
[00:03:26] Derrick Emsley: Yeah. So Tentree is a lifestyle apparel brands, and we plant 10 trees for every item of clothing that we sell. We source the most sustainable product. We can, we partner with the best manufacturers we can find across the globe and we produce product that ultimately results in the planting of trees. And, you know, from the outside looking in, we definitely look like an apparel brand that happens to plant trees. But from an internal perspective, we sort of think of ourselves as a tree planting company that happens to sell apparel. Our big vision for the business is to plant a billion trees by the end of 2030. And we planted about 60 to 65 million trees by the end of next year, it will be well over a hundred million.
[00:04:13] Alexandra Samuel: Let's rewind for a minute because I'd love to start our story from where you started. I hear a rumor that you actually started your first business in high school. What was that? What made you do that?
[00:04:26] Derrick Emsley: You know, when we were in a high school, it was around that time where, you know, every kid's kind of getting their summer jobs lined up and. You know, admittedly, my brother and I were sort of looking at our summer and saying, you know, we don't really want to be stocking shelves and at a grocery store and that sort of thing. At, towards the end of one of our, our years at high school, we actually had some people come in and talk to the school. Sustainability and environmentalism and they showcase the Inconvenient Truth movie. And, and we just sort of between my brother and I kind of felt like there was this layer of kind of fear and anxiety around it. And it wasn't, it wasn't an empowering message, really. It was, it was look at, look at how much the world is ending. And so him and I sort of put our heads together and we, and we thought, well, how can we play a part in this? We grew up in Saskatchewan, it's oil and gas, metals and mining. And so not really knowing much about this. We were like, "you know, what sounds good trees." You know, what if, what if we planted trees? Is that, is that a reasonable solution or at least part of the solution. And, and so we kind of came up with this idea to buy old farmland that really couldn't grow a whole heck of a lot. We partnered with groups like Trans Canada, Sask Energy.
SaskPower, the crown investment corporations and a handful of others to say, let us go out there and plant trees on your behalf. We'll reforest this sort of crappy farm land and turn it into a carbon sink.
What we ended up doing was we, we bought a tractor and a cultivator and we rigged up the cultivator. We ripped off a bunch of shanks on the cultivator to create what was effectively a marking device so that we could create lines in the, in the field. Uh, so we greeted the entire 640 acres of land and then we strapped on planting bags, loaded up with trees and shovels, and we planted.
You know, the idea behind that project was really focused on this concept of carbon offsetting. It was the idea that organizations are going to need to reduce their carbon emissions. They're not necessarily going to be able to achieve those reductions and they're going to need to purchase these offsets to make the Delta between what they've been able to achieve and what their commitment level is. And ultimately this was a, this was a by-product of the Kyoto protocol and, and a number of different other things. And ultimately it never really developed it. Never, it never turned into what we expected it to. And so, as a result, the, the program that we were building this around, wasn't really viable. We kind of left that experience knowing, okay, if carbon offsetting evolving into what we think it's going to, then this idea of domestic tree planting for that purpose, wasn't going to be a viable business. But through that, we also got connected with this world of tree planting organizations globally that were using tree planting, not just for the environmental aspect or the carbon perspective, but actually social reasons, job creation, food security, poverty alleviation, and more.
[00:08:01] Alexandra Samuel: So that's the moment when snap Derrick and his brother saw beyond what looked on the surface, like a failed environmental initiative, and instead got their next great idea.
[00:08:15] Derrick Emsley: So we kind of left the experience and seeing both of these areas where tree planting was doing a lot of good, but wasn't scalable because of the model that was based off of, which is in both cases, handouts, whether it was sort of individual donations or, you know, a government program. And so it's what sort of inspired us to create Tentree.
[00:08:39] Alexandra Samuel: Since Derrick and his brother had gone through this whole journey as high schoolers, they started building Tentree. What would eventually become one of the most sustainability oriented apparel companies anywhere, but first they had to go through quite a few hurdles more on that suit. First, we're going to take a quick break. Stay tuned.
You're listening to Waste No Potential, a new podcast about spotting untapped potential. This show's brought to you by the good folks at Traction on Demand. And I'm your host, Alexandra Samuel. If you're enjoying the podcast, don't forget to follow us wherever you're listening from. You can also get to us by heading over to tractionondemand.com.
So before we slide back into finding out a little more about Derrick and Tentree, I want to bring in another voice. Remember that this episode is called 'Save Screws'. Well, that's a concept. They talk about a lot at Traction on Demand and they even apply it to the way they do business. So I've brought in one of the people who coined that term, Greg Malpass he's the CEO and the founder of Traction on Demand.
Do you think I can just ask you to give us that story?
[00:10:00] Greg Malpass: It's funny, the anyone who knows me well, and at some point they'd probably kind of come into my little workshop. My workshop is chaos to everybody except me. And the reason is because I've saved all the screws out of everything. If there's something that needs to go in for recycling needs to be destroyed, needs to be kind of breaks and has to be put back together. If I can redeem additional screws out of that thing, I put them in these drawers, this ream of drawers. If you're like, "Hey, Malpass I'm looking for, uh, like a three eight, um, machines screw with that's self-tapping. I'd be like, "oh yeah. Ooh, that's going to be like under the tool box to the left. The one that's just kind of have that little crack and the spiderweb beside it. It's right there." And so I think what I've recognized is I do really believe everything is valuable at some point in time. And it's just a matter of having it there when you need it.
Saving Screws isn't post saving screws. It's about saving ideas, saving things, saving code snippets, and saving memories of what people's passions are. So then you can draw on them when you think you're gonna need them.
[00:11:23] Alexandra Samuel: So now that we've got that idea in our mind, let's get back to Derrick Emsley. Now, a young guy on this big, pretty high stakes journey to find some way to make a success out of planting trees.
[00:11:35] Derrick Emsley: Yeah. You, you know what, honestly, it was, we were product agnostic. So when we came up with the idea of creating consumer brand focused on planting trees, we did not sit down and say, "let's start an apparel business." We, we sat down and said "what kind of brand would allow us to plant trees? How can we create a business that funds our desire to plant trees?" And, you know, we thought of a number of different things. We thought of sort of an event type business, where we would create events and those events would plant trees. We talked about different types of consumer products, consumables, things like that. And ultimately the reason we landed on apparel in the early days was because it was sort of easy. We could buy American Apparel t-shirts we could put logos on them and we could sell them to our friends and family. And I think , what we quickly realized was that there was a lot more power behind this idea of wearing your values on your chest then we first recognized. But I think for us that moment, that really stood out as, "Hey, I think we're onto something here," was when I ran into somebody on the street and them not knowing who I am and me not knowing who they are. I said to them, I was like, "oh, I like your shirt." They're wearing a Tentree product. And they kind of stopped me. And they said, "have you heard of this brand?" And I said, "you know, no, I'm not familiar with what is it?" And, and they stopped me. "They plant 10 trees for every item they sell." And I was like, oh my God, this, if we, if we can sell a product and every one of those products results in somebody else finding out about what we're doing and somebody else talking about the impact that they had and being that sort of excited about it. Nobody's ever, "oh my God. Have you heard about this shirt? It's organic." But somebody is saying, "have you heard about this brand? They planted 10 trees because I bought this shirt." And so for that reason, I think when we heard that we were, we were quickly sort of like this, I think we're onto something.
[00:13:48] Alexandra Samuel: And with that, the brand started to take off. They had their 'Save Screws' moment. Found the potential from consumer purchasing power that was just kind of lying around in a drawer, like a bunch of old hardware. Then they connected their product with that goal of planting more trees. And voilà out Tentree was literally doubling profits each month. But there was this one nagging thought for Derrick. How do you commit to your values as a company when your product is kind of at odds with those values?
You know, I'm curious about that, um, balance between the environmental and kind of offsetting focus of the brand and the clothing piece of it. Because I gathered at a certain point, you did start to get a little bit of pushback around, you know, how eco-friendly the products really were. And I'm curious about how you navigate that.
[00:14:41] Derrick Emsley: We're big believers in this idea that, you know, the narrative around business has historically been, let's do less. Like let's, let's just, you know, we recognize where business we're doing bad things, or, you know, our product creates an impact. Let's do less bad. Our belief has always been that business should do more good. And admittedly, when we started. T-shirts and hoodies, we didn't know anything about organic cotton or how to source sustainably. We were just buying shirts and putting logos on them, but we kind of recognized pretty quick. Hey, if we're going to talk a big game on the tree planting side, our product also needs to live up to those values. And so we overhauled our entire supply chain and focused on using only the best materials we possibly could. So rather than conventional say cotton or polyester, it was always organic or fair trade or recycled cotton, or it was post-consumer polyester, things like that. And then we're trying to overhaul things like the logistic side of things. Historically, all apparel comes in these plastic poly bags and about five years ago, We said to our manufacturers and our warehouse, and frankly our wholesalers as well, we said," we need to get rid of this and we need to all get on board with that. "And so we actually moved to roll packing where we just use this sort of twine to basically hold our product in, in a wrap and not use additional poly bags? It's an iterative process. It's progress, it's not perfection. But it's continuing to reduce that footprint. And then just the last thing I would mention is that. At the end of the day, we view ourselves as a vehicle to connect consumers with trees. Right now that vehicle is apparel, but at the end of the day, it could be anything. And when, when we think of that vehicle, our goal as a business is to have zero negative impact on the journey to creating this positive impact through trees. So what we've also done is we've implemented an internal carbon tax at our business. And so we are effectively a hundred percent carbon neutral for our scope, one, two, and three emissions. And so we're supporting things like the Great Bear Rainforest, some solar power initiatives, as well as some more efficient cookstoves in places like Kenya. In addition to the tree planting that we're doing.
[00:16:57] Alexandra Samuel: That recognition of their potential to go beyond just selling shirts and planting 10 trees is what really sets that company apart or in the words of Greg "Saving Screws."
[00:17:09] Greg Malpass: I think this is a really important lesson there. And so what Derrick has done is he's amassed a whole. Bunch of items, screws, bits, pieces that he's able to use at different times to bring his goal in to focus.
[00:17:26] Alexandra Samuel: I'm really curious, you know, when you look back on the path of the company's development and all of these different pieces that you've brought together, what are the parts that are most important to you?
[00:17:39] Derrick Emsley: You know, the way you say it, it sounds like it we had this vision from day one and, you know, we've just relentlessly gone after executing on this vision. I don't want to claim for a second that we had understood what this was going to become at the beginning. I think it's been, it's been an iterative process. It started with our tree planting business that we had in high school that led us to creating Tentree that was intended to connect people with tree planting and sort of solving our problem as entrepreneurs. And then, you know, we've created Verritree, which is this technology business, which was effectively meant to solve Tentrees' problem, which was verification, double counting measurability of our tree planting efforts. But when I think of the things that I'm most proud of, it honestly just all comes back to the impact that comes back to the people that we're, we're empowering globally, the jobs we're creating and the trees we're planting. If you think of next year, by the end of next year, we'll have planted our a hundred millionth tree. So that, that will be our 10th year in business and our a hundredmillionth tree. So we're big on tens, obviously multiples of 10 in our business. So to me, that's just like, that's such a powerful sort of message that 10 years, you know, a hundred million trees we've planted. But that's empowering communities all across the globe, creating jobs and hopefully also, you know, getting people excited about their ability to have an impact.
[00:19:11] Alexandra Samuel: Making an impact. Derrick's original mission. It may have started in quiet Regina, Canada, but it sure didn't end there.
[00:19:26] Derrick Emsley: When we started planting in Madagascar, we were planting in this village called Mahabana and it was a village of about 160 people. And they lived on a mangrove estuary, and it was a fishing community. And the mangroves, if you know, are incredible habitats for fish to use for spawning grounds. Now what happened was the locals were cutting down the trees for, you know, for firewood and for shelter and to frankly, sell for charcoal. And so this village of 160 people. Ended up with the fishing ecosystem deteriorating year after year after year. And an, and it ended up to the point where the fishermen and women basically had to sell their boats because their yields were falling. They needed to rent boats and they fell into this cycle of poverty that they had no hope of ever getting out of. And so this village of 160 people resulted in as many as 60 of them, being in some form of indentured servitude. Where they'd rented boats, they'd kind of got fallen into debt and they can never hope to get out of it.
So we partnered with an organization there that actually had some boots on the ground and we went to mob. And we focus on hiring individuals to reforest the mangrove estuary. And we hired the individuals that were in some form of indentured servitude. And so we've been back there four times over the last seven years. And today that village is over a thousand people. There's not a single person in any form of indentured servitude. We've reforested over 16 million mangroves in that estuary. And today, one of the most exciting parts is that people are actually going back to fishing. They're saying," you know, this whole tree planting thing, like it's kinda hard work. I'm gonna actually go back to fishing because we've reforested the mangrove channel. The fishing habitats have recovered and the fishing ecosystem is coming back." In addition to that, we've supported them in sending a fresh water well drilling system. We've helped them build the maternity center in elementary school. And, you know, you're seeing all this other industry develop and evolve as a by-product of this program.
[00:21:47] Alexandra Samuel: That story from Derrick reminds me of something Greg said, and I think it really gets back to the overarching theme of this show, which of course is all about spotting potential in your business, but also in yourself and in your own mission in, you know, the way you show up in the world. That's the true potential that lies in all of that. And it's so important we don't forget it.
[00:22:09] Greg Malpass: I do sincerely believe my purpose and the gift that I want to share with anybody is all around seeing potential. Seeing potential in people, seeing potential in things. And it's not always an easy, comfortable process to get the potential out. It's almost like forging a diamond. Um, but I've also become pretty good at applying the right pressure at the right time. So then, so then people can kind of feel that they're safe enough to take the risk to try. But they're also, um, they know that there's a window of time for them to do it so they better get on the bus. I think that's one of the funnest things about this whole adventure.
[00:22:52] Derrick Emsley: I think the most important thing when you're thinking about sustainability is really just taking the first step. And one of the things that I've always believed in being a sustainable business is sort of living in your own fallibility, understanding that as a business, Hey, we're not perfect. But in order to get to better, we need to take that first step. And I think it's that whole mantra 'what's the most important step to take? It's the next.'
[00:23:28] Alexandra Samuel: Today on Waste No Potential, my guests have been Derrick Emsley CEO and co-founder of Tentree. As well as Greg Malpass the CEO and founder of Traction on Demand. It's been such a pleasure to talk with each of them and lovely to have you listening in.
I'm Alexandra Samuel, as I mentioned, this show is brought to you by Traction on Demand with production support, from JAR Audio. You can listen to us on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
I hope you'll join me for our next episode. We're going to dive deep into a story of curiosity and literally reaching for the stars until then keep your eyes and ears open. And remember hidden potential is everywhere. You just have to look and listen for it.