Carbon Neutral nursery pays it forward – Drakenstein Municipality receives 4000 donated trees

For the past century, the association with anything green in business has related solely to money – and how to make more of it. An entrepreneurial, environmentally- and socially-conscious tree nursery in Paarl is at the apex of a paradigm shift that’s proving that running a successful company sustainably is not only possible but could and should be ‘business as usual’. Recently, Just Trees took their core competencies, as well as their passion for environmental and social entrepreneurism, to a new level by donating 4000 trees to the Drakenstein Municipality

Based in Paarl, Just Trees is the largest wholesale tree nursery in South Africa. With a nursery spanning 42 hectares, they provide highest-quality specimen container-grown trees – ranging in size from 10 to 1000 liters – to municipalities, landscapers, wine estates, golf courses, university campuses, residential estates, shopping centers, civic centers, stadiums and parks countrywide. Last year, their success skipped borders when the company, founded in 2004 by serial entrepreneur Carl Pretorius, horticulturist Bruce Stewart and venture capitalist Pete Ethelston, started exporting trees into and beyond Africa – with exceptional success. 

In the same year, beyond their growing reputation for arboreal excellence, they hit another milestone: Just Trees became the first certified carbon-neutral tree nursery in South Africa. This means that, beyond the organically positive effect every tree has on the environment in terms of the oxygen it produces, each Just Trees tree grown – and sold – is genuinely ‘green’: all carbon emissions generated in planting, growing and caring for the tree – from irrigation to fertilisation to delivery  – are entirely off-set. And it’s simply achieved by planting additional trees and donating them to those who need them most.

And therein lies the company’s new-age philosophy. With a deep-rooted belief that business can and should do good, Just Trees is putting their ideal of environmental and social entrepreneurism in practice. Pretorius believes that increasing profitability can be done in a sustainable way, and businesses, just like Just Trees, are in the best position to have a positive impact in their communities by using the tools, expertise and experience already at their disposal.

This year, Just Trees donated 4000 ready-grown trees, measuring a minimum of 2 meters tall and spanning a variety of indigenous species, to their local Drakenstein Municipality. 4000 trees is quadruple what the municipality is able to plant annually, based on the funds they have available to buy, plant and care for the trees. Partnerships with and donations from businesses, like Just Trees, are crucial to municipalities, like Drakenstein, that have limited funds to effect what they would like and need to achieve in the communities they serve. Additionally, the size of the trees donated drastically improves their survival rate, and money can be saved to maintain trees instead of buying them. Moreover, the municipality is able to expand their efforts and green more areas than they would typically be able to, thus greening the future – and Drakenstein – four times faster. 

Just Trees recognised the Drakenstein Municipality, which won the National Arbour City Award in 2011, as the ideal recipient of their donation. “The Drakenstein Municipality is well-run, well-organised, and we knew that our trees would be handled and distributed responsibly,” says Pretorius. “While understanding their need for trees, we also needed to offset our carbon footprint – but they needed to go to the best possible home. The opportunity to make a difference on our own doorstep is huge for us – especially knowing that our staff and their families living in the surrounding communities would be benefitting directly from it – and we could make an impact right at home.”

In September this year, during Arbour Week, Albert van der Merwe, head of the Drakenstein Municipality’s Parks, Sport and Recreation, and his fifteen-strong dedicated ‘tree team’ will start planting the 4000 trees donated by Just Trees in schools, churches, cemeteries and community properties across the municipality. And, for the first time, private residents will also be able to apply for a tree – meaning that not only will every member of the municipality be able to benefit from and have the opportunity to be responsible for a tree but that the trees will have the best chance of survival by planting them in places where they will thrive. For this is van der Merwe’s primary aim: to get trees in the ground and to achieve the highest survival rate possible – on and beyond municipal property. 

With a 90 to 95% success rate of trees planted by van der Merwe and his team taking root, and carbon footprint calculations based on only 40% of trees surviving, the trees donated by Just Trees in fact doubly offset their carbon footprint – and, by association, that of the municipality too. What can’t be calculated or price-tagged however is the positive social impact the trees have on the people who receive them. The playgrounds, homes, parks, churches, NGOs, schools, spaces and streets – especially in Drakenstein’s disadvantaged communities – are not only greened and beautified but the trees provide shelter, shade, play, and, above all else, a sense of pride. 

300 of the trees donated have already been planted in the parking lot of the Dal Josaphat stadium and will one day provide a shady car park for all members of the Paarl public to enjoy. Another 100 trees have been planted in the streets of new housing developments and, in years from now, will transform dusty sidewalks into leafy, tree-lined lanes. The remainder of the trees will be planted during Arbour Week, with Drakenstein Municipality Executive Mayor, Councillor Gesie van Deventer, kicking off the ceremony by planting trees with the community and teaching them how to care for them. 

In addition to offsetting their carbon footprint and paying it forward to the Drakenstein Municipality with trees, Just Trees is involved in a wide array of other social and environmental responsibility initiatives, all in their hopes to improve their community and to make a difference. For instance, they have started a crèche and after-school facility that cares for children from the nursery’s ten surrounding farms. And, along with Cape Nature, they also spearhead the growing of Cedar tree saplings for the Cedar Restoration Project, one focused on saving the highly endangered Clanwilliam Cedar, included on the Global Red Data List for a species facing extinction, in the Cedarburg. For, as Pretorius says, “It’s in paying it forward that you get a lot back.”

It is a new-age business principle and practice that many companies could take a leaf out of – and which many municipalities, communities, society at large and the environment could benefit from, in Paarl and beyond.

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