Brothers Kalen and Derrick Emsley are not even 30 years old and already their lives have taken them across the country and around the world.
As the founders of tentree, their journey took them from their hometown of Regina, Sask., to the corporate oil and gas city of Calgary and, most recently, to the creative design and apparel hub of Vancouver.
tentree is a popular apparel company that plants at least 10 trees worldwide for each item sold.
“For us, it’s always been about protecting the world you play in,” said Kalen Emsley, tentree’s Chief Marketing Officer.
Kalen and his brother have had their share of bumps along the way – but their passion to make a positive impact on the environment has been the defining theme of their journey and TransCanada is proud to have played a role in their success as entrepreneurs.
In 2008, Kalen, then 19, and Derrick, 18, headed to Calgary from their hometown of Regina on a roadshow of presentations to court big oil and gas corporations.
Their pitch? A new business called Greenfield Carbon Offsetters Inc. that would plant trees on otherwise unusable farm land so that companies could purchase carbon credits to offset their emissions.
The brothers had a year and a half of research on the topic to back them up, an innovative business idea and plenty of practice sessions under their belt – their dad would pretend they were on Dragons’ Den and even brought out Monopoly money for effect.
Most importantly though, the Emsley brothers had a driving passion to do something tangible to give back to the environment.
“It was really difficult getting people to invest in our business – especially trying to get people to take a couple of kids seriously,” said Emsley.
They weren’t sure if they would be able to get their fledgling business off the ground.
“I think a lot of companies knew we were young and treated us as such,” said Emsley.
“But when we got a meeting with the folks at TransCanada, they came in and started grilling us on our knowledge of carbon offsets, the environment and the impact our project was going to have, which was totally different from everyone else who kind of brushed us off.”
“For us, that was really cool. We ultimately wanted to do it to help the environment, so meeting with people who had the same mindset as us was just game-changing.”
That year, TransCanada became Greenfield’s first customer, investing $230,000 in the first-ever carbon offset farm in Saskatchewan.
Srikanth Venugopal, an advisor on TransCanada’s environment team who was part of the original group that made the decision to invest in Greenfield, says that the progressive and thoughtful approach of the company appealed to him.
“Even though they were young, they had established excellent business processes and seemed ahead of their time in the area of carbon offsets development,” he said.
“We were very satisfied with their work and the positive impact it had on the local community.”
Greenfield planted 35,000 hybrid poplar trees on an 80-acre plot just northeast of Regina, offsetting 14,000 tonnes of carbon over a 20-year period. Today, the trees are 16 feet tall.
“I still love going there just to hang out,” said Emsley. “If you’re laying out there in the forest, it’s such a dense forest that with all the leaves flickering, it sounds like you’re lying right next to the ocean if you close your eyes.”
Putting down roots: These trees were planted just northeast of Regina as part of the Emsleys' first business, Greenfield Carbon Offsetters Inc.
After university, both brothers eventually went on to become professionals in the finance industry, working in commodities trading and merchant banking in Toronto.
But Emsley said he soon knew it wasn’t for him. He wanted to do something similar to Greenfield, where he had the chance to give back to the environment.
Shortly after launching tentree in 2012, the Emsleys and their business partner, David Luba, had the chance to appear on CBC’s Dragons’ Den to pitch their apparel business idea to the show’s venture capitalists – for more than just Monopoly money.
Into the Dragons' Den: tentree was one of the businesses featured on CBC's popular TV show in 2013. Watch the segment here.
The deal with the Dragons didn’t pan out, but five years down the road, Emsley is confident that the business, which is now based in Vancouver, is a success.
While tentree clothing can be found in 600 stores across three countries, and is available globally online, Emsley defines the success of the company from a purely environmental perspective.
“Our ultimate goal as a company is to make the greatest environmental impact and create forests all around the world,” he said.
To date, tentree has planted more than 13.3 million trees around the world, creating full-time jobs for hundreds of people – in countries such as Nepal, Ethiopia, Senegal and Madagascar.
Meanwhile, as part of their jobs, Emsley and his brother Derrick – who is the company’s CEO – travel the world, visiting planting locations, touring the facilities that make their clothing and ensuring everything that the company does – from manufacturing to fair wages to eco fabrics, trims and printing – is done sustainably and according to their philosophy of giving back to the world.
It’s a dream job Emsley said would not have come true if it wasn’t for TransCanada’s original investment in Greenfield.
“Honestly, if we hadn’t gotten the investment from TransCanada, it would have crushed us and everything we had worked so hard for to that point,” he said.
“The financial aspect was huge, but just the fact that you heard us out in the meeting and then really guided us to say here’s what you should do, here’s how to make sure your standards are up to par – it was more than just a contract to us."
"I would contribute everything we have – from Greenfield to our continued love of forestry to tentree – to [TransCanada's] acknowledgement of the importance of our work,” Emsley added.