Planting 3 Million Trees. What Business Can Learn from the photographer Sebastião Salgado

by | Sep 15, 2022

“I planted 3 million trees. They have re-built me.”

In the last few weeks, the photograph you see below appeared on my feed on different occasions—the text attached to the image praise the incredible project of reviving a whole valley and recreating its biosphere.


Source: Instituto Terra | Sebastião Salgado

But the story behind this project is often less known.

It was started by the photographer Sebastião Salgado and his wife, the architect Léila Wanick Salgado.

Born in 1944 in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, Selgado went into photography early in his life. He traveled the world, documenting some of the terrible places on earth. After spending three-four years in Rowanda and Yugoslavia, he couldn’t continue, “Humans are ferocious animals,” he said. The wars, hunger, and pain humans cause left him with no hope, and he decided to retire, “I didn’t want to take pictures anymore.” He moved with his wife Lélia back to the farm where he grew up. The same farm you see in the picture.

It used to be a paradise, he said to her. A paradise consists of more than 60% of the land as a forest. But when they moved back in 1998, it was less than 0.5%. “the land was as sick as I was feeling sick myself,” he commented. So Leila suggested to re-build this paradise. 

Since the first planting on November 1999, they have been reviving the area, deciding to make an impact in their own small world. Nature and his own life are linked. “It is the rebirth of what I lost,” said Selgado.

The Salgados’ work demonstrates that executing a vision is one hell of a task, and it often starts with a simple question – “why dont we re-build a paradise?”. It demonstrates how hard it is, especially in a world obsessed with short-term results. How important patience, persistence, resilience, and perseverance are. 

Very often, I think about how visionary the work of artists is and how committed they are to making these visions happen. Vision is a common thread in business, yet, we quickly change it when investors ask us to follow their advice or the markets signal that we should follow what’s expected.

“Being an artist is a very long game. It is not a 10-year game. I hope I’ll be around making art when I’m 80,” said the artist Anish Kapoor on a different occasion.  

My two cents? Next time you want to learn about setting a very challenging destination, developing a vision, and following through, don’t read business cases; read artists’ biographies. 

And don’t forget to check the Salgados’ Instituto Terra.

What can we create together?