The management and care of our nation’s trees is serious business, and one that is vaulting Active Tree Services into the global spotlight.
Sustenance. Shade. Shelter. Our trees do the planetary work of protecting the environment, and Active Tree Services does the work of protecting, nurturing, and planting our trees. As Australia’s largest vegetation management company, the 45-year-old operation provides safe, reliable, and efficient arboriculture, urban greening, and tree management solutions to their power utility, civil infrastructure, and government clients.
In addition to promoting tree health, growth and planting, the Sydney-headquartered company leverages industry-shaping technology capabilities, equipment, and management systems to keep trees safe for the community to use, and for the safety of the power lines and water lines that intertwine with them.
“One of the things I learned when I came to Active two years ago is that the vast majority of people absolutely love the outdoors here, and you have to because working in vegetation management means you’re literally out in the open through rain, hail, shine and sometimes snow,” said Simon Strauss, Active’s Chief Growth Officer. “As a national business we operate in the hottest regions of Australia, including the Northern Territory and also some of the coldest and wildest regions, including Tasmania. We say ‘Australia is our office’.”
“Our people have a genuine empathy for nature and the outdoors; it's the underlying theme of our business. Despite the fact that pruning trees is our core service, we care innately about the environment and want to save and promote it. Our purpose is to be truly Safe and Green.”
One of the clearest indicators of that care? Active is a carbon-neutral operation. “I believe we are the first vegetation management business in the world to be carbon neutral, and that underscores our commitment in this space,” Strauss affirmed.
“Vegetation management is in large part a logistics business, funnily enough,” he explained. “We cover hundreds of thousands of kilometers of power lines, distribution services, gas and water supply lines across Australia, so logistics and fuel usage is a major part of our business. We can’t possibly offset that through our tree planting, although we love to promote tree planting. Via the carbon neutral process, we pay for offsets for the people who are actually planting out tracts of land in Australia, and for other environmentally beneficial projects such as wind farms. We put our money where our mouth is.”
Active partners with their clients to help them achieve compliance with government requirements for vegetation management while actually driving their costs down. “Most commercial businesses will try and drive revenue, and we do, but we try to drive revenue through growth with, and references from, our clients. We always look to our clients’ best long-term value strategy and specifically avoid the unnecessary pruning and removal of trees.”
The company’s new consulting business, Active Green, promotes the health, understanding, care and presence of trees in the community. “Active Green Services allows Councils, government and commercial enterprises to maximize the value of trees in whatever urban and commercial environments we're encountering,” Strauss said. “Active Green is able to expertly advise across that whole spectrum of project design and management as it relates to the environment, especially trees.”
The larger civil works companies that Active works with need competent professionals to ensure the trees in every project are in good condition after excavators and below-ground infrastructure workers come in, as they dig in pipes, services, and utilities. “Having the combined knowledge of the environment, the ecology, and how to preserve and nurture the health of trees, we work with our clients to maximize their commercial and community-based outcomes,” Strauss said.
While much of the company’s work takes place in the trees, Active is truly a technology company. Their IT group has developed game-changing tech, including the most sophisticated field-based vegetation management system platform available, Active Mobile. “Apart from the typical GIS layering that people will be familiar with, it’s the integration of data from clients, from government, and from our own databases along with workflow management that makes it such a powerful tool,” said Strauss.
The software, currently in its 6th major iteration in 12 years, is an end-to-end works management system that includes asset tracking, web mapping, and real time data access. An environmental layer alerts crews to the presence of flora and fauna and features offline capability -- a must in regions without internet connectivity.
During the extreme 2019-2020 bushfire season the app was a vital safety tool. “We integrated the information from the rural fire services about the progress of fires directly into the app because the fires were moving so fast that, even if we were 30 km from a fire, our crews were potentially at risk. We were able to effectively geofence our crews and using the Fires Near Me app from the rural fire service, make sure our crews were safe from the bushfires. That was very important to us,” he said.
“That’s only one technology tool, of course. We utilize a number of technology tools. Some of the work we’re doing at the moment under Active Green is using satellite imagery and AI to interpret canopy cover in local government areas. We’ve just released a report to an LGA here in Sydney, and I believe it’s the first in the world,” he noted. Unlike the statistical sampling method typically used to measure canopy growth and decline, the technology enables Active to retroactively visualize five years’ worth of year-on-year activity.
Now, local tree management officers can search their entire LGA to see tree removal, growth, pruning, and canopy development. “This is an enormous breakthrough in the ability of local governments to cost effectively manage their canopy,” he said, noting the importance of the role of canopy cover in reducing thermal loads as global warming continues to accelerate. The company plans to make the tool available globally later this year.
Active’s robust R&D group is helmed by an equipment design engineer. “We’re employing around 800 full-time employees, working in one of the most hazardous job types that you can imagine. We are typically working at heights, around power lines, and with dangerous and sharp equipment. The safety aspect of our business is paramount. Our first value is ‘home safe every day,’ so the first focus of our R&D group is around safety and equipment design along with productivity. We have to be safe and productive. Marrying those two things is fundamental.”
As safety innovators, Active was the first company in the Australian tree industry to import elevated work platforms (EWPs). “It’s a truly hazardous industry and we have to manage those hazards extremely well,” Strauss said.
Active’s sister company, Aerial Access, is the Australian agent for American EWP innovator VersaLift.
“Innovation is present in the R&D piece, but we also run an innovation committee that addresses broad areas such as safety and business processes. It’s about the way we work and deliver the best value to our client. We constantly innovate across our entire business, not just in the field but in the back office where we have to be efficient, accurate, and deliver value at every step,” he said.
The Active Green business unit is currently collaborating with a European tech developer on new AI to improve thermal imaging accuracy from satellites and another looking at real time, field-based LiDAR applications. “We partner with like-minded businesses who also understand the importance of the environment and trees, working together to bring practical applications of advanced spatial technologies and AI to improve our global environment.”