Photo: The Griffith Park Observatory overlooking Los Angeles. The city’s drive to plant trees offers lessons for the global trillion trees campaign that is now underway.
Since the Word Economic Forum (WEF) announced its global trillion trees effort earlier this year, the movement has appeared to gain steam — and the recent California wildfires, along with Hurricane Laura, certainly helped raise some awareness about the need for investing in tree canopy here in the U.S.
Several months after WEF’s 1t.org launched, several U.S. companies, nonprofit groups and cities have pledged to do what they can to help with this ambitious tree-planting effort on this side of the pond.
Companies that have announced they are now part of this trillion trees campaign include Clif Bar, HP, Mastercard and Microsoft. Various civic groups including those located in Boise, Dallas, Detroit and Tucson say they are also on board. And the nonprofit component is an eclectic group with such names on the roster including the American Forest Foundation, EcoSikh and the Evangelical Environmental Network. The bottom line: It’s pretty hard to disagree about trees.
One company that’s working within this group is Timberland. That should not be a surprise — the outdoor clothing and gear brand has sported a tree on its logo for almost a half-century, long before such stands were en vogue. The company has positioned tree-planting as an important part of its supply chain work, whether it’s to help revive the cotton industry in Haiti or invest in green spaces across U.S. urban areas.
Speaking at last year’s 3BL Forum, Atlanta McIlwraith, Timberland’s senior manager of community engagement and communication, described the company’s ongoing tree-planting and sustainability campaigns as “a call-to-action to engage people in small, everyday actions that make a difference and help create a greener world. The small actions add up, and as many people do small actions, you get a movement—and it is movements that change the world."
Timberland, which says it has planted 10.7 million trees across the globe since 2001, announced last week that it will partner with 1t.org by working with various groups to plant 50 million trees by mid-decade.
This trillion trees announcement may at first seem unreachable and even smack of a slick public relations move. But the figure isn’t entirely ridiculous once a little math is done. The U.S. holds about 6 percent of the world’s land mass, so the quick answer is that those 1 trillion trees in theory could be distributed easily across the globe. Of course, some regions of the world would score more trees while others are inhospitable to tree-planting efforts, period.
Such an effort could certainly be worthwhile. The World Resources Institute (WRI), for example, concluded earlier this year that 60 billion trees could be planted across the U.S. without leaving any negative impact on the nation’s food supply. The results, according to WRI, include the potential savings of up to 540 million tons of carbon dioxide that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere, or enough to negate the emissions generated by the entire U.S. agriculture industry.
For such a plan to succeed, however, there needs to be a massive amount of cooperation between all sectors, or as the business world loves to say, “collaboration.” And therein comes a warning from Southern California.
Los Angeles offers a microcosm of a lesson in how difficult it is to match works with outcomes, especially when it comes to planting a trillion trees. When former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa headed the city over a decade ago, one of his goals was to plant a million trees across the city that’s home to 4 million people. It seemed easy enough; residents could show up at one of the city's tree distribution sites and take home up to seven trees at no cost.
But as Villaraigosa’s tenure as mayor ended, the Los Angeles Times reported the campaign “more or less” fell short. Estimates suggested that goal fell short by 60 percent, but a piece of the puzzle was that no systems were in place to track the trees once they were taken from schools, parks or other sites where the city distributed them. A decade later, one report suggested the city’s total tree canopy didn’t budge much, if at all. The good news is that such tree planting programs are still available in LA, but the Times editorial suggested more emphasis should be put on the long-term care of trees, “with less emphasis on some alpine-high number and more on raising awareness about what an owner must do to maintain a tree.”
Image credit: Joel Muniz/Unsplash
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.