Changemakers: The Carbon Offsetter, Wendy Burton.

Wendy Burton, CEO of World Tree, believes tree hugging and business do mix.

Wendy Burton. Photograph by Jeffrey Bosdet.

If a tree could be a demigod, the Paulownia tomentosa would be Thor. Stronger, more resilient and faster growing than most hardwoods, the tree — a.k.a. the the Empress Splendour — pulls 11 times more carbon from the air than any other tree on earth. The Empress is also a financial investment that, through Victoria-based World Tree Carbon Offset Program (COP), can offset the carbon footprint of investors and, when harvested, provide financial benefits to the farmers who care for them.

Launched in 2015 by Sidney’s Wendy Burton, who sold the tree as a straight commodity for over a decade, the World Tree COP initial offering sold out in six week, offsetting the entire carbon footprint of Victoria for a year. Investors for 2018 will reap a share of the income generated from the harvest of the trees in 2028 — and Burton says she’s never sold the wood for less than $10.66 per board foot — similar, if not more, than the average price of oak.

“It was such a synergistic fit to say to individuals, ‘You don’t have to change your lifestyle, you don’t have to change what you do.’ Because people aren’t going to change …” says Burton. “To be able to plant trees to offset what people are doing so we can draw down that carbon and reward them for doing it, that’s really the key.”

Intercropped across continents to protect investors from losing entire acres due to natural disasters, the trees are planted in Costa Rica, the Southeastern U.S., and the Pacific Northwest, including in Cedar on the Island. In 2019, the investments will be sold for $3,000 per acre (110 trees), with each acre averaging a minimum harvest of 30,000 board feet per decade. Profits are shared three ways: 25 per cent each to investors and the company; 50 per cent to the farmers.

“There’s a lot of innovative ideas out there that say, ‘If you spend money and do this, you get to feel good,’” says Burton, “but there are very few that say, ‘If you do this, we are going to give you a potential return.’”

What’s  the first thing you do each day (to set the tone for productivity)?

First thing every morning, I meditate. It sets the tone for being grounded. And when I’m grounded, I flow into productivity.

When you stall on an idea or problem, how do you work through it?

We have a saying at World Tree: “When we have a breakdown, we have an opportunity for a breakthrough.”

So if we are stalled, or have a problem, a meeting is called and we all sit around the table and put our collective minds together to create a breakthrough. Every single time we’ve emerged with a new path or solution and [are] grateful for the breakdown because now we know what not to do.

Who inspires you? 

Oprah. I had the opportunity to be on her stage several years ago, and her influence is astounding. [I’m] so grateful she is using it to create positive change in the world.

How do you decompress?

I take a walk in the forest … followed by a movie. One settles my brain; the other helps me escape it.

This article is from the December/January 2019 issue of Douglas.