Chad Honl’s history of caring for trees, and his passion for their well-being, led the Certified Arborist and owner of Honl Tree Care, Inc., based in Portland, Oregon, to start his business in 2009. The eight-year TCIA member company was accredited in March 2021, and Honl credits Accreditation with helping land a “huge new contract” with Portland General Electric.
Honl’s love for trees evolved organically. “My dad was always a gardener, a quintessential PNW (Pacific Northwest) guy who loved the outdoors and passed that on to me,” he says. “At one point I worked in organic farming, but it was too difficult to make a living at that. Eventually I went to work for Friends of Trees, a non-profit that brings neighbors together to plant trees. I was their first ISA Certified Arborist.”
Honl, who graduated from Oregon State University, adds, “I taught middle school math and science for Portland Public Schools, and while teaching I worked with students to transform the school grounds, planted an arboretum, put in benches and a soccer field and then put in a huge community garden. I worked with the kids to do grant writing and volunteer work on all of this.”
According to Honl, his experiences with organic farming provided an opportunity to learn more about fruit-tree pruning. “I have an eye for fine, ornamental pruning,” he notes, “and word of mouth got around and people started hiring me. Now we specialize in doing pruning of new plantings and specimen trees. I think my long history of volunteering and teaching in the area paid off.”
As the primary salesperson for Honl Tree Care, Honl handles the vast majority of sales calls. As business grew he began hiring more climbers, and now has about 20 full-time employees – eight of whom are Certified Arborists – and runs around five crews on a year-round basis. “A belief in the importance of camaraderie and teamwork was something instilled in me by my mother,” Honl says. “That’s evident in our team. We all really get along with each other, and we care about each other and the quality of the work.”
It was attending a TCIA Executive Arborist Workshop in New York that motivated Honl and his team to take the next step toward Accreditation. “The workshop was worth its weight in gold,” he says. “Also, we all admired the safety programs TCIA had put together. Accreditation is like the keel on our ship.”
According to Honl, the Accreditation process was completed in collaboration with his safety manager, Rick Till, whose background in law made him invaluable during the process. “I had written a handbook about eight years ago, and Rick edited it. I think Accreditation has already made us a better company. And it’s probably going to help us attract employees who know and appreciate that we’re safety oriented.”
Till adds, “I would recommend Accreditation. Going through the process, with outside auditing, helps expose any blind spots and helps give a full picture of what it means to have a safe workplace. Ideally, we’re following the best science when managing trees.
“The gold standard is peer-reviewed science, even when we’re also guided by our work experience. The Accreditation process is a chance to have our safety programming peer reviewed.”
Honl adds, “Accreditation allowed us to develop a good platform for team safety. I appreciate all the work that’s been put into the Tailgate Training. We use it with our employees in our safety meetings.
“I’ve been so blessed to live in an area where there are so many educated gardeners,” Honl says. “My goal is to be known for the best quality pruning in the area. I want to maintain my status quo while improving employee retention, safety protocols and pruning abilities.
“I try to treat our employees like family, and the biggest priority is that everyone gets home safely at the end of the day. Happy employees, happy customers, happy trees – those are my three pillars.”