tentree: Finding a CSR Initiative With Roots


It’s not enough anymore just to have a corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative — your CSR initiative has to be smarter and more effective than ever before and better than your competitors’, at least to grab the attention of consumers.

My attention was personally grabbed when I recently discovered a company called tentree. About a month ago, one of the many outdoor enthusiasts, nature photographers and travel reporters I follow on Instagram posted a picture of some apparel made by tentree. While I usually scroll right past these product placements, I stopped this time. The description said with every product tentree sells, it plants 10 trees. I was intrigued. I bought a hat. But I wanted to find out how and if tentree was really following through with its commitment. A little bit of digging further, and I discovered a company with what appears to be a CSR initiative that is both truly authentic and is proving to be a great sales tactic.

The Difference: Engagement

Customers no longer take note of ordinary CSRs, only companies that go above and beyond with their CSR efforts, according to the 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study. Nine in 10 consumers expect companies to do more than make money off a product, the report said. The study also found consumers will pay more for a product or even buy a lower quality product if it means doing so will have a positive impact on an environmental or social issue. Additionally, nearly all global consumers expect companies to act responsibly and seek proof of a company’s CSR efforts.

Derrick Emsley is the cofounder and CEO of tentree, a Saskatchewan-based company founded in early 2012. Derrick has taken note of the growing trend for consumers to get behind brands with effective CSR missions. Visibility, too, is becoming more important, he said, which is why in late 2013, tentree launched its official tree registration program.

How it works: every tentree product, whether bought online or in a retail store, comes with a specific code that the customer can register on the tentree website, which makes it possible to see where his or her 10 trees are being planted around the globe. Tentree was planting trees before the registration code program, but the codes opened up a level of engagement between the customer and tentree — engagement that is becoming more in demand among CSR initiatives.

“The idea is we wanted to connect people with the impact,” Derrick said, adding that tentree wants to make sure they are informing the customer about the impact they are making.

Tentree has partnered with groups that plant trees in various locations around the world, including Madagascar, Senegal, Ethiopia and India, to name the top 4 countries.

Taking it Even Further

Tentree’s CSR initiative goes beyond just adding 10 trees to the global landscape. (Actually, it’s often more than 10 trees planted, since tentree wants to ensure 10 trees survive planting.) It’s about protecting the trees and making sure they grow and provide a livelihood for the local community, whether that’s in the form of jobs or education about reforestation. Derrick explained how tentree works with groups in Senegal, for instance, by teaching local peanut farmers how to plant and care for fruit trees, which have proven to be six times more profitable for those farmers than peanut trees ever were.  

The tentree code program has been effective — about 200 codes are registered on the website every day. Derrick said the goal would be to reach 300–400 codes a day, meaning 3,000–4,000 trees are promised to be planted each day.

What Came First? The Trees or the Clothes?

One of the questions I had for Derrick was what exactly tentree was. Did it strive to be a popular clothing company? Or was selling apparel just need a means of fundraising to plant trees? It’s a question tentree gets a lot, Derrick said. But the answer was clear once he told me he used to be a tree planter — he actually started a tree planting business with his brother in high school. He saw firsthand the impact tree planting could have on land and a community and began thinking, along with the other founders of what would become tentree, how to grow that impact on a global scale.

“We wanted to do something to be a part of that,” Derrick said.

Along with Derrick, tentree founders are Kalen Emsley, David Luba, Stephen Emsley and Arthur Kononuk.

It seems to mostly be the story behind tentree, its CSR initiative, that has encouraged customers to buy tentree items. Admittedly, Derrick said, when tentree first started, the quality of the company’s clothing and accessories was not where it is today. In the beginning, tentree was screenprinting American Apparel t-shirts. Now, with designers in house, it makes hoodies, shirts, pants, hats, and more items customers are attracted to. More and more, the product is selling the tentree story, Derrick said.

The majority of tentree products are manufactured in China and tentree works with only certain industry certified companies, including factories that are WRAP approved. It also makes its companies adhere to its own code of ethics and performs third-party audits to ensure compliance, Derrick said.

CSR: Building Customer Pride

So yes, as I admitted to earlier in the article, I bought a tentree hat. And now, after speaking to Derrick and finding out more about tentree, I feel good about it. As stated in the Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study, “CSR continues to be a powerful differentiator... When companies clearly articulate their support of social and environmental issues, reputational and bottom-line benefits will follow.” I probably never would have bought this hat if it was not for tentree’s CSR initiative. The fact that I know my purchase made an impact on our world — that’s what drove me to spend the $34.99.

Yes, there are many worthy CSR initiatives out there and many companies doing good around the globe. Tentree just so happened to speak directly to me as a consumer — the product was attractive and the impact was even more worthy of my money. The added bonus comes in the engagement with tentree and the tree project as I register my code online. (The website said my trees will be planted in Madagascar, by the way). It makes me know I did more with my money than buy a trendy hat — I engaged with a company that is doing good around the globe. And that is clearly becoming more important for consumers and will hopefully translate into more powerful socially and environmentally charged CSR initiatives in the future.

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