A Climate-Conscious Arborist Who Refuses to Cut Down Trees

Leaf & Limb has an explicit and very deep focus on ecology, climate, and sustainability.

Close-Up Of Tree Stump In Forest
Simone Torkington / EyeEm / Getty Images
“Yeah, that’s not really work we’d be interested in doing. We don’t cut down trees—unless they are dead or, maybe, invasives.”

It was an interesting line to hear from an arborist—but it was exactly why I called Leaf & Limb in the first place. Calling themselves "Treecologists," the company, which is based in Raleigh, NC, has an explicit and very deep focus on ecology, climate, and sustainability. I had invited Basil Camu, the company’s Chief Vision Officer and “Wizard of Things," out to look at some woodland I own, with a view to helping with a small area that we’ll likely clear for gardens and fruit trees. As the quote above hints, Camu spent more time talking himself out of work, raving about the native species we found on our walk, and talking up the role of trees and forests in regulating our climate: 

“It’s not that I disagree with what you’re doing. In fact, it may make perfect sense here, and you’ll find good people who can help you. But we have found that as a company, we want to specialize very much in tree health—and it’s easier to say no to most tree felling, than it is to parse between the cases that make sense and the cases that don’t. Too often, we’d be asked by a homeowner to fell a beautiful old tree so they could install a chemically-addicted lawn—and then they’d get livid when we said ‘no.’”

This philosophy has shaped the broader business model of Leaf & Limb, which is now using the branches and offcuts from the mostly urban trees it looks after to generate biochar—that much-hyped climate solution—which the team then "charges" with nutrients, homebrewed compost teas, and other organic potions. This then goes directly back into feeding the trees and landscapes that the company works on. 

Here’s Camu using Leaf & Limb’s YouTube channel to educate the public on more natural tree-feeding regimes: 

The company’s tree-care philosophy is also reflected in its people-care philosophy too, having become the first tree service to be certified as a B Corporation, meaning it passes strict criteria for environmental practices (Camu showed up in an electric car), community relationships, and working conditions too. Here’s how Leaf & Limb describes their decision to become a B Corp:  

“We come from a broken industry where staff are often treated like expendable objects, and the community's well-being is usually ignored. In an ironic twist of fate, we give even less thought to our planet. Much of our industry regards itself as caring for trees when, in fact, most of what we do is cut them down or treat them with chemicals that do more harm than good.” 

Having established that we probably weren’t going to work together this time, I did want to ask Camu if he had thoughts on the broader tree care industry—and what its priorities should be at a time when trees are needed more than they ever have been before.

Here’s what he emailed me: 

“In the past 10,000 years, and particularly over the last 250 years, we humans have caused the destruction of nearly half of all living creatures, trees, and topsoil. We are altering the composition of our atmosphere and running out of clean drinking water. We are on a path towards self-destruction. The severity of what we face is enormous. 
My hope for the tree service industry, and adjacent industries such as landscaping and nurseries, is that we can become caretakers of this planet instead of what we are today: we cut trees down, pour chemicals into our landscapes, maintain grass using synthetic fertilizers, and starve biodiversity. Our profit models are built on the degradation of our planet. By adopting new models that heal our landscapes we can flip the script: we can make money by healing the planet instead of harming it.”

As part of that vision, Leaf & Limb has now started Project Pando—a volunteer-driven tree farm that will grow native species to give away, for free, to members of the public. 

Once successful, the plan is to make this model an open-source blueprint that can be replicated by anybody nearly anywhere for minimal costs. Thus, hopefully, opening the pipeline to being able to freely access the billions of trees we’ll need to reforest the planet and help overcome pressing environmental issues.

It’s all pretty cool. Even for a company that doesn’t want to work with me.