How These Entrepreneurs Are Bringing Green Solutions To Our Cities

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Ian Hanou volunteering at a community tree planting event

Ian Hanou

When Ian Hanou first studied forest management and spatial information systems, he didn’t know what urban forestry was. “In traditional forestry you are managing trees for lumber, paper, maybe recreation. Urban forestry is people forestry. You are managing trees towards the end product of benefiting people,” he says.

Once he learned about how critical urban green space is for livability, sustainability and a component of what’s called nature based solutions, which address extreme heat, local climate resiliency, biodiversity and more, he was hooked. “When I realized I had the entrepreneurial mindset, plus a love for these things, it was clear I needed to devote my career to this field.”

He started his global software and consulting company PlanIT Geo™ in 2012 to provide innovative planning and technology for urban forestry, parks and arboriculture. His team has led hundreds of projects, including urban tree canopy assessments, field-based tree inventories and strategic plan development; and the company’s TreePlotter™ software is often used by thousands of urban foresters, arborists, park managers and tree care companies around the world.

Hanou believes his company’s purpose is to add “technology capacity” through data, information and tools to any organization that wants to measure, manage and protect green assets whether someone represents a large city, a small tree care company, a corporate or university campus or a nonprofit organization.

Ian Hanou

Ian Hanou

Gaining More Momentum

This year the U.S. Forest Service invested $1.5 billion, authorized by 2022’s federal Inflation Reduction Act, to give out grants for urban forestry. “All of us in this industry are scaling up, hiring additional staff and launching programs to turn this immense potential into real progress. We at PlanIT Geo, and so many of our peers, are working at lightning speed to add capacity to governments preparing to launch major greening initiatives and crucially, track the outcomes of this unprecedented funding.”

One of the initiatives Hanou is excited about is the Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) Assessment. The origin of PlanIT Geo comes from the technology advancements of the early 2000s. High-resolution satellite imagery was becoming broadly available and the analysis software to make sense of those pixels was also rapidly improving. “For the first time, the distribution of tree canopy within a city could be mapped via satellite imagery with a high degree of accuracy.”

Looking Ahead

Today PlanIT Geo has more than 50 employees, software clients on five continents across 20 countries, and offers tree inventory, urban forestry consulting and geospatial mapping services in addition to its subscription software products.

“Just like storm drains, street lights and sidewalks, our urban green spaces are an essential part of our city infrastructure,” he says. “Trees create many meaningful, measurable benefits, collectively known as ‘ecosystem services’, such as better public health, cooling air temperatures, improving air quality, managing stormwater and capturing and storing carbon, to name just a few. We should not have to pick between living in an urban area or having access to green space. Our cities, communities and climate operate better with trees around.”

Nate Wassan

Nate Wassan

Putting A Spotlight On De-Carbonization

Like Hanou, Nate Wasson is passionate about the planet. “Tree health, nurturing trees and taking care of trees that have already been harvested are critical for our environment and impact our everyday lives. Trees play a huge role in our forests, from the microorganisms to fungi such as mushrooms, the benefit of absorption of carbon dioxide and the oxygen that we breathe, to plants that feed the animals we draw nourishment from.” He believes if everyone could participate in carbon neutrality through companies that intentionally focus on de-carbonization at scale we could come back from the brink of where our planet’s health stands.

In 2022, he started HalBar to focus on entrepreneurs and business owners who are ready to take the next step in the growth of their company. “Some wonderful people fund early-stage companies in the venture capital world. Some amazing large-scale private equity firms also exist to buy very profitable late-stage companies. However, there was and is a vacuum in the middle – and HalBar exists to help those companies grow and scale.”

Wasson and his team recognize that the capital can be a catalyst but it’s not the only thing required for growth. HalBar focuses on a set of value-added resources to help these middle market companies understand where they are today and how to get to their tomorrow.

From a strategic investment standpoint, investors benefit from a deep network of value-add resources and the outsized growth that tends to occur in middle market companies. With my formal investing background in private and public markets I believe with all my heart that growth equity is one of the best risk adjusted returns that can be had in a portfolio.

Carbon Smart Wood FinWall, The Wilson Apartments Bethesda

Nate Wassan

One portfolio company and partnership he’s particularly proud of is with Cambium Carbon. “Cambium is pioneering a regenerative supply chain model; their current model concentrates on rescuing fallen timber that would otherwise go to waste, providing opportunities with value-added products and continuing sequestering carbon.” He adds that a staggering $29 billion of wasted wood is in landfills across America which is of untapped economic value and costs approximately $651 million in disposal costs annually. “Their work addresses many pressing lumber industry challenges, such as carbon emissions, waste reduction, deforestation and transportation. Cambium then drives workforce development that addresses each issue in local communities. Furthermore, 15% of profits from Carbon Smart Wood support urban forest stewardship, providing a new source of funding for tree planting which is restoring urban canopies in cities across the United States.”

How The Circular Economy Is Creating Green Jobs

Wasson adds a by-product of restoring urban canopies is that it creates opportunities in communities experiencing decades-long health and food deserts. “For example, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which had a significant lack of opportunity before bringing back urban canopies and parks. Once more greenery was intentionally established, venture capital, private equity and startups started coming back and investing in the local economy, cutting back unemployment and provided investors with new opportunities,” he says.

“Trees and greenery mean hope, that hope is furthered by creating a circular economy that continues to grow.”

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