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Derrick Emsley, HBA ’12, receives inaugural Worldchangers Award

Mar 11, 2024

Derrick Emsley

Derrick Emsley

Acquiring your first job is a rite of passage for countless high school students. While many gravitate toward conventional part-time roles in retail, fast-food, or childcare, some chart a more unconventional course – individuals like Derrick Emsley, HBA ’12, inaugural recipient of the Ivey Worldchangers Award, which recognizes alumni for initiatives to better the world.

Instead of following the conventional route, at 15, Emsley and his brother embarked on an entrepreneurial journey by establishing a tree-planting enterprise in their hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan. Inspired by the 2006 climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth, they aimed to generate carbon offsets for high-emission businesses. This drive prompted them to acquire a square mile of land and plant thousands of trees.

Pioneering a vision ahead of its time, the carbon offset market had not yet gained traction, causing their initial business model to stumble. The brothers didn't abandon their entrepreneurial spirit – nor their desire to make a sustainable difference. A seed of innovation had already been sown, paving the way for a new and promising concept to germinate.

The birth of a company – and a movement

In 2012, that seed took root when the Emsley brothers, and their partner David Luba, co-founded Tentree – a lifestyle brand that funds tree-planting through the sale of clothing. And not just any clothing. Tentree ensures that its products are created with an Earth First approach – made in fair working conditions and constructed using only sustainably sourced and recycled materials.

“This idea of tangible impact was really unique at the time – almost no one else was doing it,” said Emsley. “I think this allowed us to tell a different story, and really resonate with people in a way that no one else was doing.”

The company swiftly gained momentum, achieving year-over-year growth, and hitting its first million trees planted in 2013. However, for Emsley, commercial success was not enough.

"At Tentree, we're building a restorative movement," he said.

With an ambitious aim of planting one billion trees by 2030, he identified the necessity for enhanced transparency, analytics, and collaboration. Enter Veritree. Established in 2021, this data-driven, restorative platform accelerates reforestation by offering companies integrated tools for planting, cultivating, verification, and tracking.

“At our core, what we believe in is using nature as a vehicle to drive change on our planet. And using business as a vehicle to deliver on that,” said Emsley.

With Veritree in the mix, global restoration accelerated. In 2022, the companies hit the 100-million tree mark. Today, they have restored more than 15,000 hectares (roughly 13,000 football fields), protected the habitat for millions of animals, created employment for 1,000 full-time jobs across the globe, and planted more than 50,000 fruit trees – enough calories to feed about 2,000 people per year.

Introducing the Ivey Worldchangers Award

Emsley's outstanding business achievements and dedication to restoration have earned him prestigious accolades, including Forbes 30 Under 30, Canada's Top 40 Under 40, and – most recently – the inaugural Ivey Worldchangers Award.

The distinctive award was presented at the Worldchangers Forum on March 1. Founded in 2008 by Oana Branzei, Ivey Professor of Strategy & Sustainability, the annual forum brings together HBA Sustainability Certificate students and Ivey alumni who model radical social change. The alumni showcase new ways of doing business, workshopping novel models of organizing, and designing the sustainable future that the world needs.

Worldchangers Committee Chair Theresa Ebden, EMBA ’22, kicked off the event by naming Emsley as the award recipient. Emphasizing the award's focus on acknowledging formidable, purpose-driven Ivey leaders spearheading meaningful change, Ebden lauded Emsley as "truly one of the great worldchangers out there."

“I hope that the work we’re doing is creating change. I have been fortunate since my time at Ivey to be able to build things in this direction, and hope to keep it going,” said Emsley, before sharing his journey to Tentree and Veritree.

The event concluded with a Q&A discussion, moderated by Rubaina Singla, an HBA ’24 candidate, and Nick Fox, HBA ’23 and Business Advisor for the Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship.

After Emsley shared business insights and pivotal lessons learned along his journey, a poignant moment unfolded at the event’s conclusion. Reflecting on the entrepreneurial rollercoaster, he underscored the significance of embracing mistakes as part of the learning process, and not allowing them to stand as a barrier to success – to making a difference.

“We’ve had amazing successes, but we’ve also had a lot of failures. I’m just as proud of the stumbling blocks as I am our triumphs,” he said.

To learn more about Ivey’s HBA Sustainability Certificate, please visit: