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Gone West: “tree millionaire” defies climate change

UK based tree planting company helps people to balance their environmental footprint. Either by purchasing trees or by working as a planter.
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by Kristin Frauenhoffer

photo: Gone West

„Do you love the planet? Do you love the people? If you answer yes, then isn’t it worth investing in them?“ The questions asked by James over the phone are provocative, but they are also simple. And they touch a sore spot. Our planet is suffering, people are suffering because of it and yet, we are still not acting. This is how James Hughes, founder of the tree planting company Gone West, sees it.

It all started with one planter …

Gone West made it their mission to give everyone – from single persons to multi-national companies – the opportunity to purchase or physically plant trees in order to balance their environmental footprint. „We have been planting trees for 10 years now. It is a simple act, but it has so much effect.“, he explains. „If everyone started acting instead of talking by investing just a small amount of money, we could actually save the world.”

James Hughes was once a planter, working for the timber industry. This is where he got the idea for his own company. A very simple but ground-breaking idea: creating environmental and social benefits around the world by generating ethical, green, jobs on the one hand. And helping to establish or restore natural habitats on the other hand. He was and is still driven by the wish to do his part in making the world a better place. „Trees are worth much more than their weight in wood.“, he underlines. He called his company „Gone West“, meaning „gone mad“. Because that is what people used to tell him when he talked about his dream: becoming a millionaire! Not in money, but in trees…

Gone West planted 4 million trees and that is just the beginning

The tree planters on their mission. (photo: Gone West)

Today Liverpool based Gone West has planted over 4 million trees in different regions in the world. So James has realised his dream. But that is just the beginning. Their website shows projects in Ireland, Scotland and Wales aswell as in Portugal, Spain, Kenya and Bolivia where they are able to plant thanks to partnering up with impactful grassroot projects. The intention of planting varies from place to place, depending on the specific landscape, the climate or the soil composition. In Portugal for example, Gone West plants trees in order to prevent fires, but also to help with rewilding of the region. That means letting nature take care of itself and enabling natural processes to shape the land. In Ireland it is more about aforestation whereas is Kenya and Bolivia agroforestry is fostered.

Plant 12 trees a year and the carbon footprint of one person is compensated

But the reason why a tree is planted is secondary, as the mere fact of giving back trees to nature is already a benefit. “On average every human being produces 12 tonnes of Co2 per year. One tree is able, through its lifetime, to offset and store 1 tonne of Co2.”, explains James. So the equation is easy: plant 12 trees a year and the carbon footprint of one person is compensated.

Gone West preserves nature but also gives jobs to people

But the mission of Gone West does not end with preserving the nature. Helping young people and giving them the opportunity to do something for the planet themselves is just as important to James and his team. “But we are not a volunteering organisation.”, James emphasizes. “Everyone who works for us gets paid a decent wage that includes training, accomodation and fuel.” According to him, a planter makes around 100 to 200 pounds a day. At the moment, Gone West has around 40 workers on their plantations, always looking for new ones. Planting season is from September to July and as the planters often change from location to location, there is always something to do.

Physical work and a taste of community

Tree planting is hard work. (photo: Gone West)

For the job as a tree planter there is no experience needed, but Gone West expects honesty and quality. Though the work is very physical and challenging, it is also rewarding. “It´s important to have a meaning in what you do”, says one planter in a promotion video on Gone West´s website. As far as the job of a planter is concerned, the meaning is quite obvious and even physically tangible. The planters have various backgrounds and life stories, but they are all driven by the same force as Gone West founder James: They want to act directly and do their part in mitigating climate change.

That is also what makes Gone West more than a mere tree planting company. „It is a taste of community that you get here“, says the managing director James, “whether you are working in the office in Liverpool or as a planter on the field.”

“I don´t care about the size of the company. What counts is the intention.”

And there are other jobs at Gone West that are challenging, even if in a total different way. The Marketing and Sales department for example has quite a demanding job profile. They have to go to the above-mentioned “sore spot” of their potential clients and convey their message. According to James, it is not important how many trees you purchase. “We are working with a lot of big companies and they are buying many trees, but I don´t care about the size of the company.”, he emphasizes. What is more important to him is the intention. By purchasing a tree, you are acting. And that is what we need right now.

One big player is missing: the state

It is of course still a quite long way to go. And even though Gone West has a has a campaign supported by Prince Charles’s The Prince’s Trust, one big player worldwide is still missing. “The state.”, says James. If every state made a clear commitment by investing in tree planting, the changes that could be made would be huge. Furthermore it would be a clear signal for the people in the respective country. A very strong signal, that the state’s concern for our nature and environment is real and action has been taken. In that way “normal“ citizens could be more easily convinced to do their part.

Gone West supports projects and individuals to realise their ideas

That is another part of Gone West´s mission: motivating others to follow their example. How? First of all, all their planters learn a lot about permaculture, aforestation, rewilding and so on in their training. Some come with a lot of knowledge and share it with others. So it is not unusual that these people try to implement a project on their own after their work assignment for Gone West. James Hughes and his team then encourage and support these activities.

Furthermore, the company partners with projects around the globe who specialise in eco-restoration and permaculture. These projects have the land, the knowledge and the means to properly plant and care for those trees. What they usually don´t have is a way to reach financial supporters. That is where Gone West gets involved. James summarizes: “Our aim is to motivate as many people as possible to take direct action. Only together we can change this world.”

For more information about Gone West and how to apply as a planter, check out their website.

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