South Africa’s Carbon-Neutral Nursery Pays It Forward with Trees

Just Trees, the largest wholesale tree nursery in South Africa, recently became the first certified carbon-neutral tree nursery in the country. This means that all carbon emissions generated in planting, growing and caring for the trees in its nursery – from irrigation to fertilisation to delivery  – are entirely off-set. The carbon offsets are simply achieved by planting additional trees and donating them to those who need them most.

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. This is quadruple the number of trees that 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.

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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.”

What can’t be calculated or price-tagged 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.

Just Trees


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. 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.”

Based in Paarl, Just Trees has 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.

Just Trees is has a deep-rooted belief that business can and should do good and are putting their ideal of environmental and social entrepreneurism into 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.

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