Real Leaders

Saving the Environment One Tree at a Time

Global deforestation may be a growing concern, but reforestation efforts are tackling the root of the problem. 

“People don’t realize how important trees are,” says Matt Hill, Founder and CEO of One Tree Planted, a Vermont-based non-profit that supports reforestation campaigns across the globe. Trees are a major food source, and make up the key ingredients in 25% of all medicines. They filter our water and clean the air we breathe. They are the habitat for 80% of the world’s terrestrial wildlife, and the source of jobs for over 1.6 billion people. And yet, every 2 seconds humanity destroys enough trees to fill a football field, and 28,000 species of trees are expected to become extinct in the next 25 years if our current deforestation rates continue.

Business is a huge source of deforestation that has largely contributed to the depletion of 80% of our Earth’s forests. Felling trees has the additional impact of contributing 20% of our global greenhouse gas emissions, because trees release all the carbon they’ve absorbed once they’ve been burned or cut down. 

Fortunately, the damage we’ve done can be remedied by replacing the resources we’ve consumed; planting trees to replenish forests and protect the organisms that live there. This is where One Tree Planted comes in. 

“There’s a lot of businesses out there looking to do more for sustainability initiatives, they just don’t know how to do it,” Matt explains. “I wanted to give businesses easy metrics to understand how they can help the environment.” And it couldn’t be easier: One Tree Planted guarantees that one dollar plants one tree. From there, they branch out to watersheds and organizations to kickstart planting projects worldwide that might not otherwise receive the necessary funding. 

There’s no end of creative ways for a company to ensure they’re making a difference. Adidas ran a social media campaign #adidastreefortree for International Yoga Day. Unilever is planting 250,000 trees in the Amazon for its new “plant-powered” energy drink. Livestrong is focusing its efforts in Kenya. And House of Marley donates a set amount each quarter and have to date planted over 160,000 trees. Big companies making an impact inspire others to do the same. Matt elaborates, “Companies are happy to say, ‘We’re a part of this.’”

According to a recent study published in Science by the Institute of Integrative Biology in Zurich, Switzerland, the solution to climate change is to plant one trillion trees. One Tree Planted is intent upon helping us reach that goal. But this isn’t just a plausible stepping stone to purifying our air, planting and replenishing trees is necessary for protecting our planet’s richest and most vulnerable ecosystems. 

One Tree Planted ensures that all participating businesses understand the lasting impact each of their dollars has, by keeping businesses along for the journey in how they’re making a difference. It takes 5-7 years for a tree to mature enough to make the kind of impact we’re relying on, and those who partner with One Tree Planted are kept informed with progress reports every step of the way. Partners are highly encouraged to take a hands-on approach to these sustainability efforts, like L’Oreal Canada, which gets its employees to a tree planting event each year.

But planting trees is not as simple as putting saplings in the ground. Matt explains, “We need types of trees that are going to be more resilient and better fitted to the future.” Reforestation is most impactful when it introduces species that will adapt better to the current state of the ecosystem. In British Columbia, the Douglas Firs that perished in the recent fires are being replaced by Aspens and Cottonwoods, which were virtually immune to the flames. In Florida, tree species are being selected that will better withstand hurricanes. The goal is that these new forests will grow strong and tall and stay that way. 

One Tree Planted currently has 4,000 business partners, and is now challenging more businesses to make an impact with the North American Million Tree Challenge. 500 companies each plant 2,000 trees in California to help the state recover from the worst fire season in its history. It will take many more efforts like this one to reap the benefits that come with one trillion trees planted, but every dollar gets us one tree closer. As Matt says, “Some people hug trees, we plant them.” 

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