Basil: We didn’t. It was a calculated risk right, I had done a lot of writing to try to play out all the various ways that I thought it could go, and there the most the scenarios were hard but doable. So I didn’t know, I was willing to lose it, truly. We were at a point where it was either just sell the company or, for me personally, it was either sell the company or do something radical, and we went radical. And we didn’t fail. It was good.
You know we ended up one of the coolest things at all, and this is like you know especially speaking to business owners, when you take a stand for something you’re going to go from having loyal clients which we always had, cause we did good service, to actually gaining a fan club. One of the things that was really crazy about 2020 they just blew me away is like the development of this fan club, never experienced anything like it with our company. It’s a service company like service companies don’t generally have fan clubs.
And I mean this is like a really amazing way, like they were advocates, they were telling their neighbors they were ambassadors. And I really do think a big part of why we actually made it was because those people went out and talked to other people, and they’re the ones who spoke loudest on the next-door app, and they’re the ones who are you know oh you got to try these guys you know those people. And I really think that was a lot to do with why we made it, maybe a smaller base but far more hardcore and excited about what we stand for.
Alisa: Yeah. Did sales fall at all?
Basil: They did. Yeah I mean we went from 5,000,000 in 2019 to 3 million in 2020 but part of that was COVID. But even without COVID it still was going to be a big drop I mean it was a big, you know 40%
Alisa: That’s a big percentage, have things recovered or stabilized or how’ve things gone since this last two years?
Basil: Well 2020 was tough, you know, difficult year, but we had COVID going on. 2021 was a much better, we’ve been on an on an inclined since then. So I think this year we’ll come close to our 2019 numbers, probably not fully. Next year I would expect that we surpass those markers, and I care less about top line revenue. I really don’t. I used to you know one of the reasons I sort of originally became an entrepreneur is cause I wanted to make a lot of money, wanted to grow a big business, and then over time I just realized those things are just not meaningful to me. We need money obviously but I just like there are more meaningful KPIs for me.
Alisa: Absolutely. So that’s a really good transition because I wanted to talk about Leaf and Limb becoming a B Corp. I guess to go into that, like what are your KPIs that you care about?
Basil: Depends on the department. So we have you know within operations within Project Pando, which is a project we do. Within sales like we have all these different metrics. Some of course have to do with the things you’d expect like revenue and profitability but then we have a lot of other things like with staff we want to be looking at satisfaction scores, Gallup Q12 scores, you know impromptu engagement, trust. With Project Pando we’re looking at you know trees growing and volunteers engaged. With sales that has a lot to do with trees saved. If we’re looking at service KPIs like the things that really are meaningful like soil rehabilitation. It’s more of a people, planet and profit focus, the triple bottom line approach.
Alisa: So when did you become a B Corp?
Basil: We became a B Corp in 2019. And that was after attempting to become a B Corp four times. We failed four times. Yeah it was a lot.
Basil: It was a difficult process to begin with.
Alisa: It Is hard.
Basil: But then when you take a service company like ours which is very fleet dependent it it’s a different kind of situation. I think B Corp works really well for some industries, then other industries are still trying to figure things out. Right. And I think a service, definitely the tree care industry, we were the first in the industry to get that credential.
Alisa: It sounds like you’re a perfect fit
Basil: We are, now. I don’t think we would have been 10 years ago. Anyway all this to say we did have to do the process four times. And at the very end the that we went to a special committee at the at the clinic and they said basically look we need you all to submit an essay and like get into more detail at the stuff we’re not seeing on this, the on the actual form. That really helped. I’m really glad they let us do that.
Alisa: It was really important to you to become certified. What, why?
Basil: Well, last couple of times were just, you know, I really wanted to pass the metric you know, like this I’m not going to fail this one. I just actually did say okay if we fail the fourth time we’re going to have to just walk away, cause this is getting crazy, but I really was just keen on passing the threshold. You know it’s just something we wanted to do It’s a cool credential I actually didn’t know as much about it then as I do now. It helps to be in the community, the more I learn about it the more I love it. But even then from as an outside perspective it’s still seemed very cool.
Alisa: So I founded my company in 2016 and my goal when I founded it was we’re going to be a B Corp, and we got certified I think in 2018, and now we just recertified.
Basil: Oh okay. Yeah I haven’t done the research yet and I’m a little scared, but I have a year.
Alisa: Yeah, and it’ll also take you a while.
Basil: Yeah, it’s a lot of work, but we did start a B Corp team at Leaf and Limb, so it’s been really fun. They’re going to help with the recertification, but the other thing they are doing is just generally, we’ve been using the handbook as inspiration for new things we want to do at Leaf and Limb. This team that’s what they do, the book and then come up with cool ideas for Leaf and Limb
Alisa: That’s amazing, how big is that team?
Basil: Right now it’s five
Alisa: Cool Yeah, I’m like that would be my whole team is five people.
Basil: Oh. We have we’re at about 40 right now.
Alisa: So let’s talk about Project Pando
Basil: Yeah Project Pando is just one of my favorites. Originally that was an effort whereby we would go out and volunteer as a company every month. And we did that for three years, we would just different non-profit each month then on the first Friday we as a company would go out and do volunteer work, really cool, really fun. The challenge was just we were doing a lot of work that was maybe not using our greatest skills, because we know a lot about trees. So it was it was fun but I you know I was in 2019, I was thinking is this really the best use of our time. We were putting in a combined two to 3000 hours every year of volunteer time.
That was when in 2019 I was thinking about just this effort we were doing and it occurred to me we should focus on doing something we’re really good at. And that’s what got me onto this idea of actually we so where we are at what we do now is the where it started in 2019 we go out and we collect seeds from wild native trees, and we actually raised these up into trees and we give them away for free. So that’s sort of the core thing of what we do. Its volunteer driven, completely, and a lot of education goes with it. Not only do we want to grow, raise trees but we also want to get people engaged with growing trees and getting hands in soil.
We’re trying to basically recreate my journey, which was as I got my hands dirty and learned a lot about trees, I went from being the person I used to be to being this this person who cares a lot about ecology and environmental issues. You know put a lot of time and efforts to help him with those issues. So kind of hoping to create a cohort of environmentalist through this as well.
Alisa: Yeah, and so when you say volunteer driven is it volunteers within the company or community?
Basil: Both. Yeah We have a big Slack platform and we probably have about a hundred folks from the community who are active on the platform. We probably have another 50 who don’t do the platform but join, something like 150 folks from the community and then staff at Leaf and Limb.
Alisa: How many ages like are you are there kids involved? Cause that sounds like the kind of thing that kids could be involved in.
Basil: All ages I mean we and then we and then we have the rotating cohort of folks who want to come in and do projects. So like recently worked with the Girl Scouts of North Carolina, Roseville High School Green Club, you know there’s a lot of kid groups that do come through and a lot of adult groups and corporate groups as well.
Alisa: Can you tell our listeners about where Pando comes from, like what is the inspiration for name?
Basil: Yeah It’s the Pando colony of quaking aspens in Utah. The idea is that if you look at the quaking aspens it looks like a forest of trees but they’re actually one single organism. All of them are connected underground via one root system. So it’s one plant, and the idea with Project Pando is that we’re all rooted in the same soil. We’re all connected, good for one is good for all. And that’s just the driving motivation behind these efforts.
Alisa: I love that.
Basil: I think it’s an interesting effort in that if we’re going to be doing mass reforestation efforts we have to figure out a way to actually get our hands on the trees. Not only do we need trees but we need to be careful what trees. So if we’re reforesting in a given area you need to look for what are called native trees. These are trees that actually live in that area and they’ve co-evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to be able to feed local ecology, those are insects, birds. So you can’t just get any tree. It really has to be those local that local ecology. Well. We have great efforts going on, the Chilean tree, initiative, UN’s billion tree initiative. We have a lot of really cool Accords about reforestation, a lot of stuff to be done, but I don’t know that we’re focusing enough on the operational side of how do we go about getting billions of trees and how do we ensure that their native.
To be a native tree you’ve got to learn how to collect seeds from that area. And let me tell you what, seed collection and stratification and germination is not an easy thing. There is shockingly little literature on this. There’s a whole body of work that it doesn’t even exist. I’m not saying trees are the only thing we need to be doing to solve environmental issues. There’s a lot of stuff we need to do, but they’re definitely a key component. One of my favorite books of all time which is Draw Down by Paul Hawkin. It’s got a hundred strategies that we should be embarking on today to help solve all of our major climate issues, and it’s a fantastic book done by lots and lots of scientists and experts from all over, but he puts reforestation in the top 10.
There’s a lot to do with soil and food. Trees play a big role in soil. So anyway this is my long-winded way of saying I love Pando for being a community effort and I love that we’re raising trees but we’re really getting at here is we really want to provide an operational basis how we go about doing mass reforestation. That information just doesn’t exist and there’s no playbook for this. What we’re doing is we’re building an open-source blueprint that we’re going to give away for free because we want folks in communities around the world, or country, but world’s too big, start with state, how about that, around the state to be able to do exactly what we’re doing, and we’re building the model so that you can do it with no time or with no money.
So whichever you have like go for it you got money you can do it this way. You don’t have money you can do it with volunteers and scrapping wood and stuff like that. So I hope this serves as a playbook for how we can actually procure native seeds grow native season to trees and then get them en masse into the ground.
Alisa: How would somebody know what’s native to their area?
Basil: The easiest way is just a Google native tree Raleigh or native tree North Carolina. We have some really great resources here. We have the Native Plant Society of North Carolina, have North Carolina Botanical Gardens, have JC Rawson and we have of great online resources, pretty easy. And I’ll back up one layer to get to a question that you didn’t ask but it’s worth knowing the answer to.
Consider say an Oak tree. An Oak tree feed something like 500 different species of caterpillars and then another 500 or so species of leaf hoppers and all sorts of other insects, and those go on and feed and lots of birds. So you can look at an Oak tree and it is just a hub of ecology, feeding a ton, it also is housing a lot. If we took a tree like a Japanese Maple, it’s very popular tree, might only feed 10 different insects. Yes it’s the sequestering carbon, and it’s doing some other good things, but what we’re missing there is it’s not feeding local ecology, nothing in our ecosystem co-evolved with the Japanese Maple, it co-evolved with other Maples, like a Red Maple or a Chalk Maple but not a Japanese Maple.
So when we talk about natives the reason they matter is because they support ecology to such a huge level. Over the last 40 years 60% of all life on the planet has died, birds, fish, you name it. So this is why native ecology matters so much because we’ve got to be feeding these populations of birds that are migrating over, invertebrates that live in this area. We’ve just got to support them with actual food and places to sleep.
Alisa: I’m curious if you have kids?
Basil: I do.
Alisa: How do you talk with your kids about this?
Basil: You know right now I’m really just, wanting to connect them with nature.
Alisa: How old are they?
Basil: Three and five.
Alisa: Yeah I’ve got a six and nine.
Basil: Yeah, and we do talk about stuff you know like we’ll garden together and I’ll talk about biology with my oldest and we’ll get into carbon. You know I love carbon, one of my favorite things in the world, and well kind of go down the rabbit hole a little bit. He doesn’t understand everything I’m saying but I’m just kind of getting him into it. I figured developing a love and a connection with nature sort of the first step. We do a lot of hiking and that sort of thing.
Alisa: That’s what I was thinking about. You’re raising tree ecologists right, and that’s a part of the education that Leaf and Limb does for the community, and so this this next generation and like each following generation like instilling that love from the beginning is so critical, and at some point there’s the awful knowledge that they’re going to have to gain of this is what our planet is like now.
Basil: I’m a huge fan of systems thinking. Donella Meadows Thinking and Systems one of my all-time favorites, Tom Wessels the Myth of Progress one of my all-time favorites I think when you start looking at systems theory, Donella Meadows would say that your great tool for creating systems level change is winning hearts and minds, that’s out of 14 levels. So the way I see the best thing we can do is win hearts and minds, that’s exactly what we try to do you know through Project Pando, through Leaf and Limb, simply trying to create an appreciation for trees, soil, maybe a moment you’re like wow I never thought about that and even just opening up the possibility of changing your heart and your mind. That to me is our role in how we make things better. and everybody has their role I think, that just happens to be what we want to do. We want to get people excited about trees.
Alisa: Yeah I’m getting excited about trees just in this conversation. I’m curious about, Project Pando is a very long-term project, everything from collecting native seeds to then donating trees. Who do you donate trees to, and at what point?
Basil: Well our first batch of trees came online last year and it was about 10,000 trees. We did some general tree giveaways. we gave some to nonprofits that plant trees, gave some to some of the municipalities around here that wanted some, Raleigh, Cary, and then several other projects where they needed lots of trees. Kind of a you know a smaller batch, this year we’ll have about 20 to 30,000 available, and then at this one location, and we’re at the Williamson preserve, which is a triangle land Conservancy preserve, and they’re an awesome organization.
We hope to be producing around 50,000 a year, but ultimately again you know those numbers matter. We do measure success on trees given away, but we’re also measuring success on volunteer hours and on educational hours those are sort of the three things we’re looking at.
Alisa: I mean it sounds like there’s going to be a lot of diversity with those trees that you’re growing. What some of those species?
Basil: Well this year we have about 50 different species. We have all kinds of Oak trees White Oak, red Oak. We have Turkey Oak, all kinds of fun stuff. We’re growing some ornamental understory trees red bud, Native Fringe Tree. We have a lot of Hickory and walnuts. What we’re hoping to do is get to a place where we can instead of handing you a tree, we can actually hand you a mini ecosystem. So we’re growing overstory, understory, shrub layer with the idea that you know you could maybe turn your front yard into a mini forest. We’ll see if we get there that’s the goal but so far about 50 different species are growing
Alisa: Wow That’s incredible. I so I grew up in and I remember going to Umstead park as a kid, and learning about trees and that the layers, like the stories of trees, I’m not saying it right but, and I remember as a kid just that it was so beautiful and like there are so many beautiful native trees, and I mean we were circling back on it again now but you know talking about the reason that non-native trees come in is because they’re decorative, but it’s just Red Buds, they’re beautiful. They’re all blooming right now. I’m like Ooh look at that pretty Red Bud, but then I guess it’s like why do people plant non-native trees?
Basil: It’s an it’s a ball of yarn I don’t totally know where to untangle. I don’t know if it’s the architects, landscape architects or if it’s the nurseries or it’s, but there is definitely a preference for the exotic, the not from here.
Alisa: But then where those things are from, that’s not exotic.
Basil: You know what if we it’s funny I was in Iceland over the summer and their invasive plants are from North America, and I was like oh yeah gentle reminder, you know we’ve all got this issue. It was kind of funny I was like oh my God like this it’s an invasive here, it’s a tree I knew, and I was just yeah.
Alisa: So recently we had another guest on who I think you know Maria Kingery
Basil: Her and Bob were just fantastic.
Alisa: They are. She got pushback from businesses sometimes that say that it’s hard enough to get one bottom line right, and it’s not realistic for some companies to focus on a triple bottom How would you respond to that?
Basil: Well I think there’s a practical answer and an idealist answer. The idealist answer is of course the one you’d expect which I firmly believe which is there’s just stuff in life that’s more important than money. It just is. I Imagine that when I get to the end of my life I’ll be a lot more excited about the people I worked with and the things we did that mattered versus the money that was in my bank account. So that’s sort of my idealist answer.
My practical answer is I think it’s good business. when you care for your staff it makes a huge difference in your bottom line. So if you’re trying to increase profit maybe think about looking internally, figure out how to create an amazing place to work, and you’ll likely see a big gain in profitability. So that’s sort of the people component. There’s also community aspect of that but the same logic applies, start caring more about your community, engaging more in your community, with your community and you’re likely to see dividends from that.
And then in terms of the planet aspect the ROI is a little less clear there. I’d have to lean a little bit more on my Idealist answer. But I would say I think there might be some business sense there. There’s, there is absolutely a growing population of people who care about these things. So maybe you’re an air conditioning company and you figure out a way to do air conditioning that doesn’t involve so many hydrofluorocarbons, and you’re going to stand out to a select group who are really going to love you, and much like the experience we had at Leaf and Limb, you might go from having what is a great client base who are loyal and they pay their bills, to having an enthusiastic fan club who are the people at the party who you know do the awkward like oh yeah you got to use this company there. So I mean that’s great, that’s so there could be some ROI there as well, just it’s a little bit harder, but I think with the people it’s unequivocal. You’re going to see ROI from caring about your people and your community.
And you know what honestly I’ve enjoyed this so much more. Like I have had the most fun in my career in the last three years. It’s just more enjoyable, I can’t promise that’ll be somebody else’s experience but I imagine you’ll feel better when you get into Friday afternoon you know and you’re starting to think about your weekend or wherever it is that your hard work weekends you’ll probably just feel better about your business and yourself. It’s a meaningful experience, and you know again life is short. These meaningful experiences matter.
Alisa: Life for humans is short, but not trees.
Basil: Yeah I mean there’s a, the Bristle Cone Pine and somewhere in California is hidden I’m not sure it’s California but undisclosed location, 4500 years old. And that’s a single organism, then you get into your like clonal organisms which is like the quaking aspens we were talking about. There are trees in that category that I’ve lived for over 15,000 years, but even that’s kind of short, I mean four and a half billion years. Like it’s nuts.
Alisa: It is. Yeah Your brain can’t even like hold that. So I guess to summarize a little bit I’m curious what you would say the impact that you’re hoping Leaf and Limb will leave on the world?
Basil: It’s a little bit of a tough question because I battle it in my mind, you know why am I doing this and it’s hard not to be attracted to money and fame and fortune in these things. So in that vein My answer is I hope we do something meaningful, right. Like I want to I would love to leave a mark. I’d love to be a thought leader. I’d love you know Project Pando; we’re also working on Piedmont Prairie’s right now. And I realize there’s a lot of P alliteration there, just now actually. This is another you know solution we hope to give out which is how to get rid of your grass, which is a whole nother discussion.
We’re working on a lot of things that I hope create big thought leadership, but on the other vein of things I’m trying to make sure I’m doing things just for the sake of doing them because they’re good, regardless of what happens. And in that vein I hope we have a healthy company, where people love to work and they stick around for a long time and they refer their friends and say this is a great place, I’m so lucky I get to work here. And that just at the end of the day it’s just a good place, good people doing good things, and at the end of it all it’s just it has it would have been a meaningful and positive experience. So those are my two sorts of maybe dichotomous, I don’t know two ways I think about. It
Alisa: They go together, and I agree with you That’s my goal for my business as well, a place where people who work feel lucky to be and want to stay and that we do good things for the world.
Basil: Yeah Because I I’m trying to care less about money and about fame and about you know who’s popular and who’s not. It’s hard, especially as a young entrepreneur that used to drive me like full on. I mean when out 15 years ago when I started company that was all I thought about. Now it’s much less so and I really I want it to be even less so, but it’s just you know it’s a battle. You’re an entrepreneur, you know how this is. You’re always thinking about, I don’t know if you are, I’m often thinking about how other people are doing well or maybe succeeding where we’re not, that sort of stuff.
Alisa: Oh yeah. That’s a daily thing, but this conversation has really picked me up.
Basil: It’s been fun
Alisa: So my final question is what person or company doing good has had the biggest impact on you?
Basil: Chouinard at Patagonia. I’m sure a lot of people this one, I it’s just so influential. The Responsible Company was a game changer, I read that book in 2016 and that absolutely helped me crystallize my thoughts. I realized that book specifically this was where I wanted to go So he’s freaking awesome, and the company’s awesome. The people he has working for him I’ve heard some of their stories that are just amazing people, but that’s the biggest one. Who’s yours?
Alisa: Well I probably wouldn’t be able to pick one, so it’s not fair for me to ask for one. I mean to be honest with you, Maria Kingery is one of those people me.
Basil: So yeah there’s such a great company they’ve helped support Pando they’ve been so generous to us as a B Corp They do this with every new B Corp It’s just really fantastic Big welcoming Like they got a bat like gift basket and stuff I don’t know if you got this also but
Alisa: they started doing it after I got a B but they are incredible
Basil: Yeah, and we also had our solar system installed through them and they were great to work with. So it was great experience all around
Alisa: And Maria has been a mentor for me for years. Yeah I’d probably she’s one, but I’ve got several.
Basil: Good, that’s awesome.
Alisa: Well thank you again for joining me Basil, great to talk with you. If people want to learn more about you and what you’re doing how can they connect with you?
Basil: I’d say the website leaflimb.com. we have a newsletter there We do educational stuff about trees every month. It’s no sales, it’s just all education and fun stuff. Project Pando is also on the website, it’s one of the menu options. And then you know social media we don’t do a great job but you could follow Leaf and Limb on Instagram or Facebook, and then I’m personally on Instagram. Yeah social media is not our strong point but the newsletter is great.
Alisa Herr [PODCAST OUTRO]: Thank you so much to Basil Camu for joining us on Inside IMpact. To connect with Basil or join Project Pando, visit LeafLimb.com. And thank you for listening to Inside Impact. If you like this show, we’d love it if you gave us a rating and review on whatever podcast app you’re using right now. For all of you making an impact in your communities, let’s hear about it. Send us an email to email@example.com and we’ll be sure to mention what you’re doing on the show or even have you on. This podcast was edited and produced by Earfluence. I’m Alisa Herr, and we’ll talk to you again soon on Inside Impact.