Posted: 07 Sep. 2019

Deloitte New Zealand’s work with Treespace: The roots of an environmental enterprise

Deloitte’s engagement with the founders of Treespace kicked off last December, led by partners Ian Fay and David Morgan.  Collaborating to design a tax structure and impact management framework with Treespace drew on the skills of our people in Tax, Consulting, Assurance and Corporate Finance, who were all proud to help entrepreneurs with such an aspirational vision, and innovative model, for commercially funding native reforestation at scale.

Treespace’s goal is to combat climate change and support biodiversity while delivering positive economic and social outcomes for New Zealand, starting with their first project at Mt Dewar in Queenstown. The enterprise’s ambitious plan is to restore 1,700 hectares of native forest and high country from what is currently unproductive pastoral farm and invasive pine. In addition, the project will involve building two hectares of cabins, homes and collective spaces, as well as 50 kilometres of biking, hiking and access trails, which will provide the proceeds to fund the restoration efforts.

Working on the Treespace project has provided me with an entirely new perspective since I started working here at Deloitte at the beginning of 2018. It was refreshing to be a part of something where success isn’t just measured in commercial terms.

As part of the Corporate Finance team on the project, my role was to conduct a global scan for similar organisations and the reporting methods and indicators they used. This meant undertaking a crash course in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the methods being deployed around the world for measuring our collective progress toward them.

Admittedly, getting to grips with the SDGs has been a steep learning-curve, but I have emerged with a better understanding of the various frameworks used to understand progress toward them at both a national and organisational level. I also had the opportunity to spend time understanding how the New Zealand investor community creates policies and takes investment decisions that factor in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and the UN Principles for Responsible Investment. As an active investor, this was a real eye-opener and has given me a starting place to consider looking beyond the financial metrics the next time I'm considering an investment

The comparative aspect of the project proved to be most difficult, given that Treespace is a commercial model that at its heart has a positive social and environmental pursuit. In New Zealand, commercial reforestation of this type appears to be a new concept. The measurement and reporting frameworks that enable social and environmental businesses to tell their ‘value’ story are not easily found or applied by people who are occupied with the day to day challenges of making their business work. I think there is a good chance that the commercial model Treespace has developed will support their mission.  But for the founders, success is defined as fostering community, working together to restore the mountain’s forest and biodiversity, and showing that we can create solutions to climate change that benefit everyone. Treespace has challenged my preconception of what an environmental enterprise can be. 

Overall, Treespace has been an enjoyable project to work on and has provided me with a greater sense of efficacy in terms of the part I can play to help combat climate change and have a positive influence through the work I do. With an organisation of the size and magnitude of Deloitte, I think it's important that we support aspirational clients like Treespace where we can. It’s a testament to Deloitte's commitment to its purpose that Deloitte people have the opportunity to pragmatically make this kind of impact that matters.

For more information about the project, check out Treespace’s website and our video below.

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Chantha Phai

Chantha Phai

Senior Analyst, Corporate Finance

Chantha Phai is a Senior Analyst within the Corporate Finance team based in Wellington.