Transcript: Celebrating Earth Day and Shifting to Digital Experiences after COVID-19 with Matt Hill
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Katherine Whalen [00:00:01] Hey there, Circular economy fans. Do you want to learn more about Circular economy? Or maybe you're just looking to save some time before your next presentation. Well, I've got just the thing for you. I've taken all the presentations. I've given about Circular economy and consolidated them into a 20 page slide deck. And it's yours to use when you join the Getting in the Loop Podcast newsletter. Just head over to SlideDeck.GettingInTheLoopPodcast.com to sign up for the newsletter and get your copy today. Again, that's SlideDeck.GettingInTheLoop Podcast.com.
[00:00:38] Hi, I'm Katie Whalen, and join me each week of I talk with experts around the globe about Circular economy. You'll find out what's being done to make it a reality and if it can really solve the problems it promises. It's time for Getting in the Loop.
[00:00:53] Welcome back to the Getting in the Loop Podcast. I'm your host, Katie, and this week marks the annual celebration of Earth Day. Today on the podcast, we are celebrating with Matt Hill, the CEO and founder of One Tree Planted, which is a reforestation non-profit that started in 2014. The company's mission is to make it simple for people to give back to the environment. Mat's team initially reached out to me earlier this month and I jumped at the opportunity to chat with him because one tree planted has had to reshift their Earth Day celebrations in light of recent events. Today, you will hear more about how they have done just that, as well as how you can participate in Earth Day even while social distancing. And even if you're not planning to commemorate Earth Day this year, this episode may be super valuable for you because you'll get to hear first-hand how a company has needed to pivot because of Covid19. I hope that you'll be able to pick up a few pointers and be inspired by how they have shifted to a digital experience. So let's welcome Matt Hill of One Tree planted to the podcast to learn more about reforestation and celebrating Earth Day this year.
[00:02:08] Okay, awesome. Well, I'm so excited to have you on the Getting in the Loop Podcast, Matt. To start us off, where are you calling from?
Matt Hill [00:02:15] I'm calling from Montreal, Canada.
Katherine Whalen [00:02:18] Oh, wow. I didn't realize that you're in Canada.
Matt Hill [00:02:20] Yeah. Yeah. It's a 501-C3 charity based in Vermont. But I happen to live in Montreal.
Katherine Whalen [00:02:26] OK. So are you Canadian? Are you American?
Matt Hill [00:02:28] Yeah, I'm Canadian.
Katherine Whalen [00:02:29] Yeah. Okay. And to get to the Vermont border, it's only 45 minute drive. So when I was setting up this charity I wanted to be in Vermont, Green Mountain State and very progressive state. So we set it up there. But most of us work out of Montreal.
Katherine Whalen [00:02:43] Cool. Good to know I'm from the States originally, so we're kind of border neighbors.
Matt Hill [00:02:50] Where are you?
Katherine Whalen [00:02:51] I'm from upstate New York.
Matt Hill [00:02:53] Okay. I went. I did. I went to school in Buffalo in Canisius.
Katherine Whalen [00:02:56] Oh, okay. Yes. Just a two-hour drive away from the hometown. I grew up in Geneva, New York. Yeah. So. Well, so you've given us a little bit of a general introduction to who you are. But obviously Canadian does not just describe you as the entire person. So tell a little bit about your background and one tree planted.
Matt Hill [00:03:18] Sure. So I want to do my masters in environmental policy ended up not doing that and did my MBA in sports management and worked in the NFL but always had an interest in the environment and knew that people needed to do more. And I'm talking ninety nine when I was doing my MBA. So I was ahead of the curve when I was going to do it in the environment. And then I started a. So I worked and worked in sports. But then I came back to Montreal from California and I started the sustainable food packaging company. So when the Winter Olympics were going on, they have a mandate to be green. So all the beer cups at the Olympics and coffee cups and cutlery needed to be compostable. So I represented the manufacturer and got them all into the Olympics and then they asked me to run Canada. So I basically started from nothing and turned it into the largest sustainable food packaging company or wholesaler for many, many years. But the thing I noticed was a lot of companies were resistant to go from a traditional coffee cup that's four cents to six cents. And they would always say, what, you know, that's 50 percent more. And I would say it's not 50 percent more. It's two cents more. Know, so you kind of paint the picture just two cents more. And they said, well, we wish we could, but, you know, we can't go to that price and we'd like to do more. So I'd always tell companies, plant trees.
[00:04:35] So I was always on back my mind, not because I had the charity, but I would tell people trees are so powerful and so many different ways with air quality, water quality, biodiversity, etc.. And a big company said that you should start that. So I started this charity about six years ago.
Katherine Whalen [00:04:49] Yeah. So can you dive a little bit into the into the company, to this charity, One Tree planted? Because, I mean, my listeners are familiar with a lot of sustainability topics, but deforestation is something that I think is not what they think about a lot of times when they're thinking about how to apply maybe like circular economy strategies to their companies. So could you just give a little bit of a background into this topic of deforestation, reforestation and how how your charity works?
Matt Hill [00:05:17] Sure. So one tree planted and for every dollar that is donated plants a tree. And it's tangible. So I know if I donate ten dollars to this charity, it's going to plant 10 trees in California. Let's just say this particular project was helping with reforestation from a forest fire. So this particular project maybe lost a lot of trees from a forest fire. Well, we have another project, literacy in Colombia, that when you planted 10 trees there, it was restoring soil quality because a lot of times mining is destroyed. They use mercury to extract stuff from the the metals from the ground, but it leaches into the water. And then it has this, like, big effect. And then the what? The fish are contaminated and then the kids in the community are eating the fish. So it's tangible. We plant in four regions around the world to a plant in North America, South America, Asia and Africa. And then I would say the importance of planting the tree helps with the air quality, water quality, biodiversity, health, social impact. And then it's Questors carbon. So those are my six pillars in terms of our charity.
Katherine Whalen [00:06:22] Yeah. Okay. So when you work and you so you work with different companies too, do they get to do that or do their customers get to do that? How does that kind of-- Can anyone go do this or do you kind of partner with organizations as well to do this?
Matt Hill [00:06:38] Well, so in North America, we're partners with the United States Forest Service. So they're at the federal level. Then we work at the state level. So we'll work with Minnesota State Forestry. Florida State Forestry. California. We work closely with Cal Fire. So we work at all the state levels and then we work at the watershed level. And those are the ones that I really love. So there's a three man organization, let's just say, in Oregon that manage maybe a few hundred acres. And, you know, when a donation comes in to us, this bucket grows in a sense, what I call, you know, a dollar here. Five dollars, ten dollars. And then at the end of the year, we might have one hundred thousand dollars. And then we'll give that to all these water critical watersheds through like Oregon, Washington State. But again, watersheds throughout the country. So and then in around the world, it's all these amazing, amazing local organizations that need financial support to scale their program or get more trees in the ground. So we give the money to them. They plant the trees. They know how to plant that. But we've grown a lot by allowing people to come out to these planting projects so that they can be inspired and get their hands in the dirt and feel like, oh, my God. I didn't realize how important the tree is in terms of cooling the water or helping with the water quality. And then and then they do get inspired and want to help the planet in other ways. It's not just all about trees, right?
Katherine Whalen [00:07:56] Yeah. So you're using the tree to kind of ignite their interest in learning more about the environment.
Matt Hill [00:08:04] The environment, you know, a lot of people hear about carbon in this matter, about the environment, but I find they get confused or they're paralyzed because they don't understand it. So we've just always tried to keep it super simple. You know, the one dollar plants one tree. But then when you plant it here, keeping it really simple. So, for example, when I went to California with California, we're doing a site visit. And they started getting very technical use like P. D from like Stanford. I'm like, wait, you got me at seventy thousand trees and the spotted owl and give me some nice pictures. That's what I think the donors need to kind of understand the basics. Or they just don't do it. So we've been keeping it really simple for people. And more inspiring versus the gloom and doom, because I found a lot of organizations out there said, you don't give us ten dollars today. They're going to end like, you know, next year. Right. So people have become desensitized. They're looking for things that are more positive, outlooking and inspirational.
Katherine Whalen [00:08:56] Exactly. So this week when the show is going to air, is is the marking, the celebration of Earth Day. So April 22nd is Earth Day. And I know that this probably is a big day for your for your charity. And you had to shift your entire plans for commemorating this day because of the current situation around the globe. And I want to dove into that and hear all about it. But first, can you tell. Tell me what your initial kind of plans looked like. My guess is, based on our conversation before I hit record, it has something to do with Portland, Oregon.
Matt Hill [00:09:34] Yeah. So today, 25 of us from our company were supposed to fly to Portland, Oregon. And when we get there, it's a team bonding part. So we all get to kind of work together, do one full day of the development of the strategy for the rest of the year. And then we go and we visit some sites, some nurseries in terms of where we grow trees, grow the trees for the Pacific Northwest, and then we'll go to like a site or microbrew. So a lot of it's team bonding and gets to know everybody because our team somewhere in Massachusetts, somewhere in Montreal, somewhere in Toronto, even one in Germany and somebody from Australia was coming over to. But that all got stopped. And then we're going to do a big plan to treat a on Saturday, which is the 18th, because a lot of the events on Earth Day is not landing on the weekend. So we do that and we usually get a thousand people out. We'll plant 5000, 10000 trees are different.
[00:10:25] Business partners come out. And it was that all got stopped because of the unfortunate circumstances that we're all living through right now. We were going to do a big thing, a mural on a wall where they were going to this famous artist in Portland was gonna draw this for us. And he was going to have a lot of stuff incorporate into it. We're gonna have all the food trucks come up and then we're just gonna get people in the Portland community to come out and learn about, you know, our organization and the different companies that are involved. You know, it's so usually it's a lot of fun. So we're gonna have to postpone it to the next time.
Katherine Whalen [00:10:57] Yeah, exactly. So I imagine you're still doing something, I'm sure, to mark this. So this this occasion and you've had to kind of pivot. So I'm maybe you can tell us a little bit about what you actually are now planning to do, because my guess is you're still doing something with your team and you're trying to commemorate this special day.
Matt Hill [00:11:16] Well, it's a special day and also the whole month. So I'm saying then always just have to be on the Earth Day, like the whole month of April. We call it Earth Month. We're like, here's all the things you can do there in the month of April that I think are important. So whether you go to your local park and you're taking trash out of there or X, Y and Z, let's just say there is a lot of great things. So we had the pivot. So because of the circumstances and the unfortunate amount of job losses, because the economy came to a screeching halt. The last thing we wanted to do is be not sensitive to the situation and say, hey, it's Earth Month, give us money to plant trees. So we just looked at things that people could be doing to learn about the environment and the little activities and games to be. Yeah. Just to be involved. And then we did a lot of videos that kind of touched on the situation right now. I don't know if you've seen them, but, you know, we have a really good video team and marketing team. So we wanted to pivot that way and not do an ask.
Katherine Whalen [00:12:12] Yeah, because you're talking about the new campaign called a New World Campaign, right?
Matt Hill [00:12:18] Right. Yeah, exactly. So your vision for a better world is and somebody might say for everybody to become a vegetarian, somebody would say, no war. My vision for a better world is this. If we could plant more trees. But I think it would be really good for people to share what their opinion and opinion is for a better world.
Katherine Whalen [00:12:37] Yeah. So could you give a little bit of insight into how you were able to have the turnaround with your team to produce these? Because I saw these videos and I was so impressed that you were able to do this in such a short amount of time. So I'm sure the listeners are would be really inspired to hear any kind of thing that they could learn from you about how to sort of manage a team in the kind of situation that we are in right now and how you actually made it happen.
Matt Hill [00:13:05] Well, we're a team of twenty five and we all are working from home now, we use Zoom to get on a call a Monday. Together we can all see each other and we talk about what what are we all going to work on this week? So everybody individually says this week I'm going to work on this. And then on Friday, everybody kind of shows what were what they accomplished during that week. So stay focused and keep busy during these times. And the tackle projects that you've been too busy with, our growth, let's just say to get to some, now is the time where we're focusing on stronger infrastructure, strong, stronger project processes. But because it is Earth Month and Earth Day is approaching, our marketing team said, hey, what can we do that people out there who want to celebrate Earth Day but now can't go outside and do feel involved, engaged, still inspired or learn? But we have a nimble team, and I think a lot of our growth has happened that way, to be able to turn things around in two, three days. So we have an awesome video team. There's three people there. We have a great marketing team and we all collaborate, get together. And I think our entire company pitches in. So somebody who's an operations or somebody who's in another department, if help is needed, they'll they'll jump on board. And we all kind of discuss together. It's a team effort.
Katherine Whalen [00:14:19] Yeah, well, kudos to your team because I saw those those videos and they're super inspiring. And I was very, very impressed with your ability to have such a short turnaround and pivot like that. Thank you. Great.
Matt Hill [00:14:30] Great to hear that. When people feel inspired because that's the ultimate result. And to me, it's never been about trying to raise more money and get more. To me, it's about inspiring people and turning it into a brand because organically with the funds and the money comes that way. So to me, it's never been about a number, because if you think about a tree planting organization, you know, there's it's most people can't think of one. So now we're starting to get there were people think of one tree planted and are now reaching outsourcing because you guys are more genuine or I get it with you guys that can connect to somebody that does want to help the environment but just doesn't know how.
Katherine Whalen [00:15:09] Yeah. I have to say from from my research in, like, Circular economy, one of the concerns that sometimes with like reforestation or kind of any of these sort of charities is like the transparency behind it. And so it seems more genuine, you know. Well, you guys are quite open to it. And, you know, like the the face to the name of this actual organization. So that's something that I also thought was interesting.
Matt Hill [00:15:37] Fantastic. And then you asked me that question about deforestation, reforestation. But, you know, I would say everybody causes deforestation and just your daily habits. So I call it the consumption of stuff. Just your activity. So what are the drivers of deforestation? So a lot of stuff that comes from palm oil that's in so many different products, whether it's lipstick's or chips or whatever it might be. Right. And then a lot of a cheeseburger. I always talk about the cheeseburger effect, but the average North American eats 150 burgers in a year. You know, so they need to cut down trees to graze, you know, for the for the cows to be out there. And then, you know, electricity, heating your home and then driving you're just driving your car from to get to work or wherever it might be. So what are the things we can do to reduce our impact that will lessen deforestation? But again, I just say the four drivers, main drivers of deforestation. So then people say, oh, my God, there's a lot of people kind of just don't even think that they're affecting the environment in any way. But when you buy that new Apple iPhone or you're eating meat many ways. So I'm not expecting to be fanatics and change their lifestyle, but small little things we can do that does make an impact. Like be vegetarian for a day. Everybody can be a vegetarian one day of the week. And I seem to go vegan. You know, not ask you to drive a Prius, but small, low, conscious effort. So a bike to work one day a week. Yeah. So anyways, that's the way we've been trying to position it. Yeah.
Katherine Whalen [00:16:57] Like yeah I like that. I like the positive, the positive messaging vs. the doom and gloom. And so my question for you is, because, you know, it's it's Earth Month and Earth Day is April 22nd. So how now with, you know, social distancing in our lives looking a little bit different? What kind of tips do you have for individuals and corporations for them to get involved with Earth Day and Earth Month this year?
Matt Hill [00:17:26] Well, because we're confined to our homes now, a lot of it has to be digital. So, you know, I don't like to, like, ask people for the money, but like now, since you're limited and you can't go to a tree planting event, you could create like a fundraising page. I'm sense and tell your friends and family. And then, like, if you donate 20 dollars, you know, you get a T-shirt or a bracelet. Again, I don't like to go that way, but it's a different period right now. I think people still want to help the planet. And reforestation so important because, you know, you are just on the call where we're doing this project. This is empowering women. And actually, what the what is it we're at now? 17 million jobs lost. And people. If we can get more tree planting, it creates jobs. Right. And you're restoring landscapes. I mean, restoring lands, skate's water quality, air quality. So it has such a a a multiplier effect. You know, so. So people who now were lost, their jobs are reaching out to these reforestation organizations saying, hey, have work. I'd be willing to go into work. But now we're starting to hear more, more, more of the projects are getting delayed because the crews that go at the plant now have limitations on their proximity. But to go to your question on things that people could do is like do little games that are online that are dealing with environmental initiatives because this little tidbits like saying, you know, the average tree will sequester forty eight pounds or, you know, when I was in the food packaging space, you know, our pet recycled peaty, you know, and we can now recycle these water bottles. If you have to use it. So I think for people to just be looking online. But it's got to be engaging. Right. Look, if you donate, it's done. And tomorrow it's forgotten. So it has legs to it. So making things a little bit competitive, saying, hey, who can who can do the most activity? So you're asking me the question about things people can do on Earth Day. Earth Month. We have a bingo game and we have like these assets you could download that are activities and games that people can do to keep them so far. Bye bye bye. My buddy manufactures puzzles and he's told me that they can't produce them fast enough because I guess a lot of people are going online and looking for things to be engaged. And I haven't even thought of a puzzle since I was little kid. But so true.
Katherine Whalen [00:19:36] Yeah. My in-laws and my brother in law. And they're like they're all sending photos and the family WhatsApp for like the of the puzzles that they've been doing during during the lockdown in the Netherlands, for example. So yeah, it's them. And I like I love games as well. So I fully support doing a little doing this to kind of gain more knowledge about environmental issues and to educate ourselves about these types of topics. And I think also with the situation that has happened, of course, one of the things that I think has been seeing little things around the Internet, of course, you have to wonder how true they are. But, you know, different things about reduction in environmental emissions because of certain areas, you know, having lockdowns and not as much transportation and not as much emissions as they have had before. And they're seeing clean, clean air for the first time or being able to see mountains that they never could see. So I think in some ways it's bringing more attention to some of these environmental these these environmental issues.
Matt Hill [00:20:38] One hundred percent. I mean, air quality, water quality. And so fast because, you know, this is now week five for me being inside. And the fact that people can see visually the difference in the air quality or water quality. And I'm sure if somebody really dug deep berley see a lot of the impacts that far. So if we were to minimize our impact because you can't stop me getting to work, so or, you know, you still have to keep your home and do certain things. So, you know, I've heard that there's a flaw that you can't go below was eight tons. Between eight and twelve tons is kind of like the floor unless you're living in a cave, you know, because everything causes emissions. You know, you gotta buy clothes. And even if you're recycling clothes, you do more of that. I've seen some pretty cool things. Subscription boxes now where you just use clothing now that people are just using versus. Yeah. So lot of cool things happening, though.
Katherine Whalen [00:21:31] Yeah. Yeah. I'm also on week five and I'm really hoping that there's gonna be a lot of interesting innovation coming out of this time period as well and an awareness about about just how quick ecosystems are able to even recover. Well, with a little small changes, though. Yeah, totally. Yeah. So we mentioned games a couple of times, so I thought that was a great segway to the final question that I asked the guests that come on the In the Loop part of the Getting in the Loop Podcast, which is about the board game series board game that I created, where you're a company that is trying to produce products that utilize materials that the European Commission and the United States government has deemed as critical. So like antimony, tungsten, cobalt, a little bit different than the bio cycle that you're you're dealing with. And in the game you're trying to produce, you're trying to collect the materials to produce your product. And you have to try to rethink how you can how you can do this there. There are different events that happen in the game and they can either hinder you from acquiring these materials or also help you in acquiring these materials and also strategizing to make a better, more circular company. So my question for you, Matt, is if you could create some sort of event for the game, what kind of topic would your event address?
Matt Hill [00:22:57] So just what are you saying, like small, low actions that people can do that, you know, at the end of the day just adds up and everything? Yeah. So like my example, like if somebody was to be a vegetarian just for the day, the overall impact, something like that, or if you're going to a store to make a purchase, you know, like, you know, I was on call yesterday and somebody said, you know, plant the tree with this purchase. So like just like, you know, whenever you go to check on, say, hey, would you like to play by the tree for a dollar today? And you just added in there. But for example, one of the grocery chains, two million people a day go through there and one out of 10 people just gave that dollar because, you know, even blink about it. Well, two million people. That's two hundred thousand trees in a day. And then I said, this grocery store itself will match it. Boom. Half million trees plant that in California. But again, I think I can give you something better.
Katherine Whalen [00:23:42] Well, I like the idea of small little, small little action.
Matt Hill [00:23:45] Hello. Yeah. That add up collectively. Right. So not expecting people to strap themselves to a tree and and do the protests or sign this petition that small little things that collectively add up. And like you said in the last month, how much you've seen noticeable effects just in terms of air quality, water quality, et cetera.
Katherine Whalen [00:24:03] Yeah, yeah, definitely. Well, this has been so, such a fun time to chat with you and learn more about one tree. Tree planted. And I'm wishing you all the best for your your celebrations next week as well as you know, of course, this entire this entire month, Matt?
[00:24:20] Yeah, definitely. When we do our retreat with our team, I'm definitely going to be we're gonna be playing your game. So I'm looking forward to getting that.
Katherine Whalen [00:24:27] Yeah. We'll make sure that it happens so that you can do that when you finally are able to meet meet up again. Before we go, I will have a link to, of course, your website in the show, notes of the podcast on our website. But is there a specific place that you want to direct people like a Twitter page or a Facebook page where people can go learn more about you and the topics that we discussed?
Matt Hill [00:24:53] I think if you just go to onetreeplanted.org people can kind of it's pretty easy to navigate and see because we have a segmented based if you're looking for schools and there's activities, or if you're a business or you're just an individual, that they could kind of see it. Like you said, you watched videos and we're not trying to come across as the donations just to learn more about the environment and small little things you can do that just have an impact at the end of the day.
Katherine Whalen [00:25:17] Excellent. Well, I'll be sure to link that and the videos and on the website as well. So everything will be able to be found there.
Matt Hill [00:25:25] Sounds good. I'm going to have to get you to come out to a tree planting event. So in September.
Matt Hill [00:25:30] Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode. For show notes and links, go to our website at GettingInTheLoopPodcast.com, and while you're there, subscribe to our mailing list to have new episodes delivered to your inbox every Monday. See you next week.
About the Show
Getting In the Loop is a weekly podcast dedicated to exploring how to transform to a more circular society. Join host Katie Whalen as she examines the challenges facing our current resource use and discovers alternatives to the ‘take, make, dispose’ way of doing things. Each week she interviews circular economy experts about what they’re doing and learning. Together we'll uncover what circular economy means in practice and find out what's being done to keep our resources in a loop rather than sent to waste.