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Mister 1000% ROI

Bruce M Firestone, PhD, and Andrew L Firestone, BA (Econ)1

Any time someone off􀆯ers you investments with returns of 1000% per year, you are right to be skeptical, but this is what Australian economist “Mr 1000%” Andrew Firestone has been working on for a number of years now. He reckons he will be able to present how households can add an equivalent of $60,000 to $70,000 AUD to their annual income with some fairly simple approaches he has studied and researched. These are activities with a very high return on their labor, capital, time and sweat equity inputs. I told him about the tiny house movement philosophy of “less house, more life” and he loved that idea, his tag line is “Better Income – Better Life,” a similar pattern.

But wait, it gets better. Like veg-o-matic, K-tel direct-marketing TV pitchmen of the 1960s whose mantra was, “It slices! It dices!” you pay no income tax on these earnings.

The Veg-o-matic2

Huh? How is that even possible?

First, let’s work through the 1000% ROI number then deal with personal tax issues.

Full of Beans Case Study

Some years ago, Andrew purchased a pack of bean seeds for $3.50 that produced 250 grams per week of the sweetest freshest beans you can find anywhere; this went on for nine months in Canberra where he lives with his family3. The Canberra area has a relatively dry climate with warm to hot summers and cool winters. Elevation about sea-level is around 580-meters (1,900-feet) and you can see snow in the foothills around the capital city of Australia from time-to-time.

To keep them producing, Andrew staggers his planting. He then harvested seeds from his best producers to use for the next year (this will become important later).

Over the year, his bean yield was around 9 kilograms (nearly 20-pounds), which (as of 2021) retailed at $3.90 per kg in-store or $35.10 for his 9 kg. Now estimating his ROI is simple arithmetic—


2 Image source, BitBytes - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

3 In a cold northern shelf city like Canada’s Capital City (Ottawa), you would probably get six months and then only if you start your seedlings inside.

ROI = ($35.10 - $3.50)/$3.50 = 903%

So, not quite a 1000% return, but getting close with two other key factors still to consider. It might be useful to note that a quick online search of bean prices today (circa 2024) shows much higher prices per kg for beans, ie, $114! Now that’s inflation for you… And don’t forget—since Andrew’s bean seeds are now free, his ROI is currently infinite.

“But whoa, hold your horses5,” you say. The above calculation doesn’t factor in the cost of Andrew’s labor, right?

Marble Bust of Homer6

That’s true. It doesn’t. But it also doesn’t yet take into account taxes. For Andrew, the labor cost to add would be the income he could otherwise earn. But he is on a fixed salary and picking up a part-time job would be impractical. So, the real alternative is Andrew sitting in front of his TV for nine months instead of experiencing shinrin-yoku (the Japanese term for forest bathing), one could argue that his cost of labor is zero or even negative since gardening can be a positive health event, providing both exercise and mental well-being. Plus, how much work is involved? Very, very little, he informs us.

Practicing forest bathing in Japan7

When he lived with his family in a small townhome, he was able to sneak his seeds into a tiny and neglected patch out front and just put the water to them; he used a bunch of weeds he removed from the scrubby yard as mulch. In the photos below you will also see a mandarin seedling he put in as well.


4 For example, check out the price of Miss Melons fresh beans here,

5 By the way, it was Homer not an American cowboy who first used this expression, Hold your horses—it was in book 23 of the Iliad.

6 Image source, Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here. Original uploader was JW1805 at en.wikipedia, Public Domain,

7 Image source, Teamsamuraispain - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Andrew’s sneaky, puncy townhouse microgarden: YUMMY

What about income tax?

Well, the beauty of self-production is you don't pay any. If Andrew could have worked extra hours to buy his beans, he would have to pay income tax on that income before he was allowed to go ahead and spend it. There are a couple of ways to think about tax. Firstly, if he was to go out and earn the extra, he'd lose close to half of that marginal income to taxation, so the beans would really have cost at retail (back in 2021) about $70 in after-tax income8. Or if he was just using his regular work income, he would lose on

average 25% of that so his beans would have really cost $46.80.

He tells me, he sees this pattern over and over again with home-based production. There are some less good returns, growing watermelons or pumpkins, for instance, but many traditional pastimes such as gardening, sewing, home preserving, brewing, etc will likely hit the 1000% mark.

In fact, Andrew calculates, a household could make the equivalent of $60,000 to $70,000 worth of taxable income (but, in fact, not subject to tax) at home per year doing these sorts of tasks!

Gender roles

As far back as the early 1980s, researchers noted that, “Women do two-thirds of the world's working hours but receive only one tenth of the income and own one hundredth of the property9.” But this need no longer be the case—traditional crafts are being rediscovered and families are making many of them “team sports.” Things on the following list are now being done by all—

  •  home cooking/baking,

  •  child minding,

  •  dressmaking,

  •  tailoring,

  •  networking/sourcing/bartering10,

  •  yogurt making,


8 Bear in mind you don't compare your homegrown product against the cheapest produce available, but rather the freshest and best versions. When looking for crops to grow, probably best to focus on high nutrient and relatively high-cost foods. 9 Said then President of the Canadian International Development Agency (Marcel Masse) in 1982,

10 Historically, women were (are) balancing out equity across communities and sharing useful information more widely. For example, a homemaker learns that a neighbor needs to clean out their stables. Next, the homemaker’s life partner helps muck out the stables and, in return, they receive a free load of manure for their backyard homestead garden. This networking/socializing is crucial in a tax-free, bartering-based, local economy...

  •  woodworking11/furniture production,

  •  cake making,

  •  candle making,

  •  gardening (aka backyard homesteading),

  •  cheese making,

  •  beer brewing,

  •  raising backyard chickens and/or ducks,

  •  planting and harvesting fruit trees,

  •  knitting,

  •  load shifting—adding solar panels with battery storage12,

  •  clotheslines,

  •  paying off􀆯 your mortgage as quickly as possible13,

  •  hunting large game with old trucks in national parks (maybe􀦸􀦸􀦹􀦺􀦻)

  •  beautifying property with large shrubs/trees/creating a food forest14

  •  retrofitting roof insulation where standards are poor15

Vertical urban farms

Andrew is also skeptical about the economics of vertical farming (as well as the lack of nutrition in they produce). And he is not alone16.

He writes—

At the very least, vertical farming has to be direct to consumer but having the word “selling” in there is going to make it tough—all the regulatory issues, packaging, and taxes and other charges will likely kill them. They would have to be like strawberry farms back in the day: Give customers a basket and let them pick their own; the operator just weighs it at the register. But I can't see how that very, very, very expensive capital could ever pay for itself and the maintenance costs on those systems will be extreme. You have mineral rich water flowing through small pipes and pumps; it’ll be a clogging nightmare. You will have major condensation issues and molds will grow plus all sorts of ventilation problems. These can't be

magically solved. They’ll need expensive energy and capital systems to deal with it. And in terms of this being “green,” not at all! These systems use steel and glass, and they are hugely energy intensive to make


11 Think woodworking is one of humanity’s older art forms and that traditional skillsets have been (mostly) developed in the time period covered by recorded history (around 10,000 years)? Not so. Read this article about a recent archaeological discovery in Zambia of a log platform or shelter constructed 476,000 years ago by stone-age people. Some type of hominid accomplished this feat including notching the logs to make a better fit/stronger structure, The BBC article is based on a paper published in the Nature journal, Evidence for the earliest structural use of wood at least 476,000 years ago, 12 Unfortunately, according to a CSIRO study, solar hot water does not produce the desired ROI.

13 Apparently, paying o􀆯 your car loan early is not important, probably because cars are, for the most part, a depreciating asset. 14 Tree planting improves property values by about 6% (see Appendix below), provides shade, cooling, and wind protection, as well as fresh air. Combining that with a food forest increases ROI further…

15 Returns of about 40% for your roof, 20% for walls and 5% for floors. 16 For example, refer to: Vertical Farming Has Found Its Fatal Flaw, crisis.

and run. There is no way to make that energy back over their economic lifetime. This is just some feel good greenwashing. By the way, you can make super cheap dome greenhouses using plastic sheeting and poly pipes that would have much less environmental impact. But places like Canada and the US Midwest aren’t ever going have economic, full-on heated greenhouses. If they go the cheap poly dome route and get more out of their shoulder seasons (that is, forgetting about December to February periods), they have a shot to

make local produce work (better). Residents should simply put a bunch of raised garden beds with domes in their existing backyards over a weekend for something like $100 bucks.

Beautiful Legs Case Study

Andrew went hunting for a nice dining room table—one with actual real wood. Retail prices for this sort of thing were around $2,400 AUD at the time with a manufacturer’s rebate (coupon) available of $30017 so a net effective price of $2,100. Thinking of proving his point once more about 1000% ROI being widely available but little known, he purchased 2 pairs of steel table legs for $85 and scrounged around for some old wooden planks, which he paid $105 for and set about doing some home woodworking himself. Again, his ROI is simple arithmetic—

pair of steel legs $85.00

solid wood planks $105.00

total cost (home-based) $190.00

retail price $2,100.00

margin $1,910.00

ROI 1005%


This did take him a while to complete so you might want to factor that in, but frankly, when returns are likely measured in triple digits or quadruple ones, you can stop measuring.

Bruce M Firestone, Andrew L Firestone,




17 Car/boat/RV (caravan)/truck manufacturers have been using this “charade” for a long time. Here’s how it works—their distributors/dealers/shops sell Jane and John a car/boat/RV/caravan/truck/piece of furniture/whatever for $5,000. There is also a separate coupon which promises them a 15% manufacturer’s rebate (ie, $750) later on… Now, Jane and John aren’t rich dudes, so they finance (say) 100% of their purchase with some kind of a buy-now-pay-later lender. The lender sees they paid

$5,000 so they lend John and Jane $5,000. But the manufacturer subsequently snail mails a check/cheque to John and Jane or otherwise reimburses them for their coupon in the amount of $750. Presto magic, John and Jane have their new car/boat/RV/caravan/truck/piece of furniture/whatever plus they also have $750 in cash now. What’s interesting about this is that the $750 cash back is not considered income in the hands of John and Jane, so they don’t have to pay any personal income tax on it. For the manufacturer, it’s an allowable expense (reduction in their income) so it too lowers their overall tax burden. Of course, John and Jane are now on the hook for repayment of $5,000 plus interest. But most people, especially young people and entrepreneurs of any age, have very high personal future discount rates so cash-in-hand might look good compared with a future payment plan of some sort.

APPENDIX: Measuring the Value of Design and Creativity—

Value of a City’s Treescape18


We can usually quite easily measure the cost of a “thing”, and, as a result, we 􀏐ind it easier to establish a budget for the cost of a new project than to determine, with any degree of con􀏐idence, the revenues or stream of bene􀏐its that 􀏐low from that project.

At Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism, we are trying to change the School’s paradigm from a preponderant reliance on justifying Architectural Design and related Fees for Service based on the cost of a design to a new paradigm, where the bene􀏐its created by excellence in design services are also taken into account.

Gosh, even McDonald’s Restaurants are converting from the Dark Side and spending more on the design of their franchises (at least in France they are). McDonald’s is doing this for a reason—better designed stores are attracting more customers, who are staying longer and spending more per capita.

In other words, better design is a paying proposition. What we want to see is that more of the value created by designers is captured by them through higher fees. Higher fees can be justi􀏐fied to the client by higher Return on Investment (ROI) for clients. Today, everyone should want to be able to measure bene􀏐its as well as costs; as they said in Jerry McGuire: “Show me the money.” And get higher fees too.

So here are the three questions we are going to ask in this essay:

Q1. Can we measure ROI from dollars spent on design?

Q2. How much of the ROI can be attributed to greater net bene􀏐its derived from design and creativity versus, say, lower costs or higher revenues derived from other sources?

Q3. How can creative persons obtain more value from what they do?

For example, what if we could show by a cross-sectional analysis (i.e., a comparison with other existing museums) that an extra, say, $35m invested in the design and construction of a National Museum would result in an increase in annual visitor count of 2 million at $10 each for admission? Well, obviously, we don’t need to go through the rigmarole of a spreadsheet analysis to know that a $35m additional investment that produces an extra $20m per year in revenues is worth doing.

Folks like former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Architect Douglas Cardinal understand this at the ‘nano’ scale—they just have a gut feeling about this stuff; they get it intuitively. Mr. Cardinal often describes Monsieur Trudeau as his ‘patron’ with respect to the design and construction of the fabulous Canadian Museum of Civilization. Douglas uses the term in its purest form; he understands that creative people need the support of powerful people, and he respects utterly the fact that creative people are entrusted with great responsibility to protect the interests of their patrons and their audience too.


18 Originally written in 2003.

Canadian Museum of Civilization (Now Canadian Museum of History)

Sinuous Curves, Extraordinary Design, Greater Value from Creativity

An unbelievable design like this has got to be worth more than just another square box, so higher fees should be justif􀏐ied on the basis of more hours worked on the part of the Architect (clients don’t really care about this) and a better product (many clients don’t care about this either). No, what most clients want is to be shown a higher ROI for their money before they will pay you more.

At the School of Architecture, we teach our entrepreneurs and entrepreneur designers (it warms my heart to see how many Architects are now taking an interest in these matters) to measure ROI using an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) methodology. The IRR seems to be the most useful and accurate way to measure and to weigh the relative costs and bene􀏐its of a new project, design or program. Knowledge of these techniques puts designers on a more level playing field with their patrons so they can negotiate better deals (read higher fees) for themselves.

Value is measured not just on the basis of costs and bene􀏐its. Value in a free market is whatever a willing buyer and willing seller agree to. It can be much higher than costs, about equal to costs, or much lower. Obviously, creative persons would prefer not to sell their services or products (art, for example) below cost, but this isn’t unheard of.

Vincent Van Gogh,

Poor until the End—Don’t Let This Happen to You

So, we may determine that the IRR from investment A is much greater than from investment B but that has nothing to do with the price one might get for A or B. As we will see later on, the price for a thing (your fees as a designer, the price paid for the art you create, whatever) is what you negotiate for it. By knowing a thing or two about ROI and IRR, maybe you can negotiate higher prices because now you have more leverage from having more knowledge about the stream of bene􀏐its relative to its costs that will 􀏐low from your work.

What we are going to learn from the model I created for the following example of planting ordered street trees in my community surprised me—we are going to see that almost all the increase in value from an improved treescape is derived from the act of creation and design and not from, say, decreases in air conditioning costs. And also, we are going to conclude (unfortunately) that you don’t necessarily get what you deserve in this life. Read on, Dear Reader.


My wife, Dawn, and I were chatting around the dinner table one evening last week and she asked me: “What is the value of a better streetscape, umm, treescape here on Zokol Crescent (where we live)?” Well, she didn’t actually put in quite this way, but the message was —if we got all our neighbours together and planted trees along our road, that would be … nice. So I left the room and booted up my PC and created a spreadsheet right away to see if we could measure the value of a creatively designed treescape for Zokol, which you’ll see shortly.

The constraints I put on this exercise included:

1. that the treescape would be professionally designed;

2. that the trees would be at least 1.5-inch caliper specimens so that we didn’t have to wait 20 years for the effects to be seen—visual impact would be felt after f􀏐ive;

3. that we would use a design that brought uniformity to the tree planting and to the street;

4. that ultimately, we would have a canopy of trees form over our street;

5. that the trees would be long, lived native hardwood species;

6. that the trees would be disease resistant;

7. that we would look at two scenarios—one where the trees would be planted by professionals and one do-it-yourself case but the design and planting would be supervised by a design professional;

8. that we would not accept a ‘no’ from the City who might raise objections (like, say, that the trees require maintenance, that they might interfere with underground services (blatantly wrong if you pick the right species), they mess up city streets when their leaves fall (hmm), that the 􀏐first six metres of our front yards should be clear of everything except grass (ugh), etc.);

9. that we would need at least 50% of the home owners on our street to agree to participate in the program so that we didn’t end up with a Hodge Podge effect and that the ‘free rider’ problem (the mooches amongst us) would be manageable;

10. that the budget would not exceed $200 per tree for purchase of the trees and another $200 per tree for professional planting services;

11. that there would be at least one tree per lot and preferably two each;

12. that this investment in design and development must have a ROI that exceeds most home owners’ investment portfolio rates of return.

Gee, Maybe Street Trees do add Some Value, After All


So how do we go about measuring the value of an improved treescape? Well, 􀏐first of all, let’s not reinvent the wheel.

"Trees can boost the market value of your home by an average of 6 or 7 percent."

-Dr. Lowell Ponte

"Landscaping, especially with trees, can increase property values as much as 20 percent."

-Management Information Services/ICMA

"Healthy, mature trees add an average of 10 percent to a property's value."

-USDA Forest Service

Ordered Street Trees Forming a Canopy

So, OK, let’s use the low end of the range for value increase—a mature treescape adds, say, 6% to property values with emphasis on the word ‘mature’. Let’s further assume that the streetscape is mature at 20 years using, say, maples and oaks, which happen to grow very well in the clay soils around where I live.

So, we can hypothesize that we will see value increases something like:

Year 0 $400 per home (i.e., the cost of two self planted trees per

home in the do-it-yourself program)

Year 5 10% of the ultimate value

Year 10 33% of the ultimate value

Year 20 100% of the ultimate increase in value of 6% per home

We could make other assumptions than these, but this seemed reasonable to me. As it happens, the ROI is not too vulnerable to these assumptions and if you don’t like mine, change the model for yourself and you’ll see the ROI is not very sensitive to this time pro􀏐file of bene􀏐fits.

Of course, there are other bene􀏐its of planting trees in city spaces like, for example:

"One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people." -U.S. Department of Agriculture,


"Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and can save 20 - 50 percent in energy used for heating." -USDA Forest Service


"Shade from trees could save up to $175 per year (per structure) in air conditioning costs."

-Dr. Lowell Ponte.

(Unfortunately, as so often is the case in research, the data used here are US based.)

I have based the increase in property values from an improved treescape on a biological growth curve— values tend to increase slowly from Time 0 (where the increase in property values is presumably just equal to the cost of planting them) to about Year 10 when a faster annual increase in value sets in culminating in a maximum increase in value at Year 20.

Bigger is Better

I wanted to try one more case—I wanted to see if savings in, say, annual AC (Air Conditioning) costs might have a significant impact on the IRR (I use Internal Rate of Return and ROI as interchangeable terms in this essay, but I am actually calculating the IRR here).

I was a bit lazy and used straight line approximations to calculate the annual savings in AC costs rather than generating a true biological growth curve. So I assumed constant increases from 0 to 5, from 5 to 10 and from 10 to 20 years. Given the number of assumptions used here, it doesn’t really matter. Also, because Ottawa is such a northern shelf city (it is a sunny -27 degrees Celsius as I write this and the sun is heating up my home of􀏐ice nicely, btw), I reduced the savings in AC costs from Dr. Ponte’s $175 USD number to, an arbitrary, $75 CAD in Year 20.

Well, you can see from the spreadsheet included in the Appendix below, the impact of a reduction in AC costs (Case 4) on the ROI. It changes the IRR from 20% p.a. to 21% p.a.—a pretty minimal change. Clearly, the most powerful impact of street tree planting is the increase in property values that arises from the perception that this street is a more desirable place to live, a more aesthetically pleasing place to come home to.

I also tried the model with a much higher cost base—I included a 􀏐igure of $800 per home, which specif􀏐ies professional tree planting. The IRR dropped from 20% p.a. to a still respectable 16% p.a. (17% if you include annual AC savings). However, convincing our neighbours to get on side with a program that calls for spending $800 each doesn’t seem too realistic, so we are likely stuck with a do-it-yourself planting solution that starts at $200 per household.


These kinds of techniques are being applied everywhere today. It seems to me that folks are quite risk averse these days—reluctant to invest in anything without being shown that it will pay off for them. Whether we are talking about a tech investment or an investment in better design or a more innovative and diverse functional program for a new construction program or whatever, people want you to be able to prove that it is worthwhile for them, and you can’t do that without doing this type of analysis.

I believe that at the end of the day, everything creative people do—building cities, for example— require faith, or if you prefer, belief. City-building or enterprise-building are optimistic kinds of endeavours and, no matter what the numbers may say, before anyone commits to anything, they also need to feel in their ‘gut’ that it’ll work out somehow, more or less as planned.

There is an important lesson in this for all manner of creative people to learn—that much or even most of the value in a ‘thing’ is in the eye of the beholder. Creative people involved in design and invention tend to undervalue their contribution to the economic well being of their society. In this example, 95.2% of the increase in the ROI (i.e., 20%/21%) can be attributed to the act of creation and just 4.8% can be attributed to the actual measurable change in bene􀏐its (that is, the annual savings in our neighbours’ AC bills).

I have to admit that what CU’s Dean of Engineering and Design, Samy Mahmoud, said to me a few years ago seems to be true: “You don’t get what you deserve (in our society); you get what you negotiate.” So, architects, landscape architects, industrial designers, interior designers, artists, musicians, actors, writers (hmm), directors, decorators, set designers, photographers, videographers, graphic artists, even engineers (hmm) and scientists take note, you need to say: ‘More please, Sir.’

Of course, there are many other bene􀏐its derived from tree planting than we have included above. However, we have enough of a justi􀏐fication, at least for the residents of my street, to consider implementing this program, just from the economic bene􀏐its included here. Very few people tend to be ‘other directed’ (i.e., motivated by something other than money and self interest). But that’s OK, because if they follow their own personal interests in this case, they neatly coincide with the greater social good too.

Nature’s Free Air Conditioning


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