Deep Green: Belgium’s Solitair Thinks Long-Term

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Some industries face long planning horizons: makers of premium wines or spirits must often invest in large inventories of aging stock; companies or governments investing in expensive infrastructure (e.g. high-speed trains) must think in decades. Many firms and their leaders that ought to think in long time-horizons do not.

One firm that is thinking long-term is a Belgium-based company called Solitair (http://www.solitair.be/en/home/). A recent profile in Monocle reveals that the founder, Dirk Cools

founded the Solitair tree nursery with the aim of growing mature trees that would be ready for sale not five or 10 but 30 years hence, his friends were not convinced it was a smart business move.

That was in 1986 and, happily for Dirk, the world has caught up. Today the 20-strong family-run company enjoys a flourishing market for the trees he has painstakingly raised over decades. The Belgian nursery, 30km northeast of Antwerp, now comprises a square kilometre of 60,000 shrubs and trees.

As his original collection matures, the trees are lifted and exported all over Europe. The nursery serves a burgeoning list of city governments from London to Tbilisi that want to bring a bit of the wild to their urban landscapes.

“For a while people wanted nature at a distance,” says Dirk’s daughter – and Solitair employee – Chloë. “Now people want the wild back. In crowded cities the opportunity to find solitude under a large tree is increasingly special.”

What is interesting to xraydelta is that although the company had to exhibit patience and vision, the payoff is that the company now has an opportunity to continually fine-tune a portfolio of younger and older trees of various shapes and sizes, with an ability to provide more mature specimens that other providers cannot unless they are willing to also invest the time and to develop the processes required. For example, one doesn’t just pull a large tree out of the ground, or start digging one out using a back-hoe. Instead, Solitair needs to trim a tree’s roots every two or three years using a curved “ice-cream scoop” contraption.



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