At Prosper Strategies, we’re fascinated by the origin stories behind social enterprises that blend purpose with profit to make the world a better place.
From a desire to bridge communities, to a passion for the culinary arts, to a transformational, life-changing experience, there are countless forces that motivate social entrepreneurs and nonprofit founders to take the leap, and there’s nothing we love more than going back to the beginning to hear how a founder got their start.
This month we chatted with Joe Lannen, co-founder of Tree Tribe. Tree Tribe is an outdoor lifestyle brand that makes eco-friendly clothing and accessories –– and plants ten trees with every sale. For Joe, starting Tree Tribe stemmed from more than just his undying passion for nature, health and fitness. As a social entrepreneur, he’s striving to change the landscape of modern consumerism.
Tree Tribe’s Inspiration
Joe’s fascination with sustainable materials began in 2008 when he lived in Ocean Beach, San Diego, one block away from the Pacific Ocean. He spent a few years building natural products out of bamboo, hemp and wood and going on solo backpacking trips in the forest. It wasn’t long before Joe began looking for a way to fuse his passion for nature with his everyday work.
Hungry for a new adventure, he left his job as a freelance web developer in 2015. Joe was eager to “start something that mattered” and inspire businesses to prioritize social impact over profit.
“I wanted to change the landscape of consumerism,” Joe shared. “I knew that if we did it more responsibly and inspired others to do the same, we could create an ecosystem where people still can buy stuff, but give back at the same time.”
In February of 2015, one month after he arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand on a one way ticket from New York City, the idea for Tree Tribe was born.
From Business Idea to Company
After conducting product research, Joe decided that bamboo sunglasses would be Tree Tribe’s first official product. He discovered a manufacturer that could make any shape, size and style of bamboo sunglasses entirely out of sustainable materials.
With his first product in production, Joe had one major decision left to make: How was Tree Tribe was going to give back to the earth? Joe was familiar with 1% for the Planet, but he wanted a more tangible way to make an impact. He decided to follow Tom’s “one for one” business model. But instead of a person in need receiving an item with every product purchase, Tree Tribe would provide the earth with ten newly-planted trees.
Today, Tree Tribe offers a full catalog of eco-friendly products and has planted over 142,880 trees. For Joe, this monumental impact is just the beginning.With every product purchase, @TreeTribe plants ten trees in countries around the world. @JoeLannen Click To Tweet
How Tree Tribe Operates
All of Tree Tribe’s employees share a passion for the organization’s core values: nature, adventure, travel and community. Currently, Tree Tribe doesn’t have a central headquarters. All five employees are located in different countries and Joe lives in Colombia. Of his spread out team, “Tree Tribe is located on planet earth,” Joe said. “We don’t have a central hub. We operate very lean, and currently don’t rent a physical commercial space.” But as the organization expands, Joe has plans to open a warehouse location in Brooklyn, New York.
To plant the trees, Joe works with existing agroforestry organizations to make operations more efficient and scalable. Tree Tribe currently has four partners planting trees in Nepal, Madagascar, Haiti, Costa Rica, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Senegal, the United States and other locations. Right now, Tree Tribe’s focus is to expand in South America, however, Joe’s aspirations do not stop there.
“One day, I want to plant trees in every country in the world,” Joe shared. “And bring the world closer together.”
Bridging Communities, Ten Trees at a Time
One of Joe’s long-term organizational goals is to host tree planting experiences that welcome people from all walks of life to come together and celebrate nature. During our chat, Joe shared his experience planting trees in the hills of Thailand. People from at least 20 different countries came together to plant over 3,000 trees in response to deforestation that led to erosion and other problems. He hopes to host similar reforestation gatherings as well as urban reforestation events in the future.
Communicating Social Impact
As a social entrepreneur, Joe and his team face their fair share of challenges.
“Every product has to be good for the environment,” he explained. “That is one of the things that makes us unique. There are a lot of companies that do one or the other, but doing both is a challenge.” But at the end of the day, Joe is confident Tree Tribe’s efforts are what makes them unique when marketing their products to consumers.
“Imagine if every single company gave back –– even if it was just 1%. Having a tangible giveback, whether it’s planting a tree or giving school supplies, sends a much stronger message when communicating with your customers. When they buy our eco-friendly products, people can feel like part of the movement.”
In addition to communicating tangible impact, Joe believes collaborating with other social impact groups is a great way for social enterprises to spread their mission and mobilize potential stakeholders to take part in their cause.
Social Enterprise’s Power to Make the World a Better Place
As an advocate for sustainable consumerism, Joe hopes to bring more awareness to the materials we use and consume. Through Tree Tribe, he strives to show people that using natural materials over harmful ones with toxic chemicals can prevent poisoned water, dangerous conditions for workers, death to bees and more. In turn, this will make the world a healthier, more positive and more sustainable place.
“Social enterprises have the power to change the world,” says Joe.
The Prosper team couldn’t agree more.