Plant Trees: Top 5 Quick Actions for Big Impact #2
Updated: Apr 7, 2019
This series of posts is covering the five quickest things you can do for your business to make the biggest impact and the biggest steps towards that magic number: zero. If you want your business to be more sustainable but don't know where to start, read on!
#2 - Plant trees. Lots of them!
It's impossible to run a business in the modern world without making emissions, and/or being responsible for their generation further up the supply chain. Whether it's power, transport, electronics, internet server use, stationery, product supplies, packaging, inventory, or the tea and coffee in the office kitchen, everything has an environmental price. And while it may take a little bit of initial effort to work out how much CO2 your business is responsible for, there is luckily something very tangible that can offset those emissions: trees.
Trees breathe in carbon dioxide (CO2) and breathe out oxygen - the opposite to humans. They use the carbon they retain as building blocks to grow, and each tree can absorb and store 1 tonne of CO2 in its body and roots over its lifetime. Therefore, if you plant a tree that would otherwise not have existed then it can offset your production of the same amount.
And you won't just be helping with emissions. As a basic rule of thumb, the more trees we have the healthier the planet is; trees are also a defence against other forms of air pollution, rising salinity, erosion, flooding, habitat loss, climate fluctuations, extreme weather and much more; in fact, for just about any environmental problem you can think of, planting more native trees will help, and a HUGE amount of the trouble we're in environmentally is because we are cutting down more than we are planting.
In fact, trees are so important that the UN highlighted them in their Global Goals for Sustainable Development; Ending Deforestation and Restoring Degraded Forests is Target #15.2.
The UK is well below average
European countries average 38% tree coverage, while Scotland has only 17% and the whole of Britain averages 13%. To put that in perspective, Bhutan is the only carbon negative country in the world (meaning they sink more carbon than they make), with 72% tree coverage and a 60% minimum written into their constitution...the UK is falling far behind countries with similar climates, like Finland (73%), Sweden (69%), Japan (68%), Latvia (60%), even Russia is at nearly 50%. We need to do better.
We're losing 27 football fields worth of trees every minute
Deforestation is when the number of trees cut down/destroyed exceeds the number being planted. Right now we are losing approximately 18 million acres of forest globally every year to deforestation: that's an area roughly the size of Panama (and nearly the size of Scotland), or 27 football fields every minute of every year. The overall level of tree cover was at 30.8% in 2015, and has been declining for centuries. Given the amount of human activity needing to be neutralised, we're going to need a lot more than that to maintain the planet's health.
Home Grown Solutions
The Scottish Government has set a target of reaching 25% tree coverage by 2050, which means planting 10,000 hectares per year until 2020-21 and stepping that up to 15,000 per year by 2024-25. But only 7,100 hectares were planted in Scotland in 2017 (that's 22 million trees) with the shortfall being blamed on bad weather reducing the number of planting days. Worse, this total made up 78% of the trees planted in the whole of the UK, with England falling far short of its meagre promise to plant 11 million trees between 2015 and 2020. It's clear our governments need our help.
What Can I Do?
Once you've decided to plant some trees, you can go one of two ways - both are equally valid, so choose whichever one is right for you today (you can always power up a level at a later date)!
1. Plant As Many Trees As You Can Afford
There are a number of cost effective tree planting programs in Scotland and around the UK, where you can pay for trees to be planted on your behalf, thus ensuring effective stewardship and the right kinds of trees in the right places. Choose how many trees you would like to plant or the financial committment you are able to make, and go for it. Even one tree a year is better than none.
Trees4Scotland work with landowners, businesses and individuals across Scotland. You can buy trees individually or a £15 a month plan will pay for 13 trees, enough to offset an average UK citizen's carbon footprint for a whole year.
Trees For Life are re-planting the Caledonian Forest in the Scottish Highlands: You can purchase trees individually, or start a 'Corporate Grove' that comes with its own url and can grow in size with your business.
The National Forest has a range of options, including a monthly subscription or an opportunity to plant the tree yourself in their forest in Leicestershire.
2. Do a Rough CO2 Emissions Calculation and Ballpark a Number
According to the World Bank, the average UK citizen is responsible for 6.5 tonnes of CO2 per year, while business emissions vary; the actual amount depends on everything from staff commuting distances and methods, shipping distances of goods, how local your suppliers are, and if your staff travel for business, to what kind of technology you use and where it was made, and the kind of coffee you use.
Obviously it can be extremely complicated to calculate the entire impact of everything you come into contact with, so most calculators reach a ballpark figure by taking into account the major contributors only. And because they don't capture everything (and not all trees survive for the full 40 years), it's a good idea to add a couple of extra trees onto your total for safety. There's definitely no harm in planting a few more than you need to!
If that's not enough for you, then you can also look into creating a Carbon Strategy or Carbon Neutral Certification. There are numerous consultancies around the UK who can assist you with setting goals, creating strategies or accreditation, and there is a great article here to give you an introduction to this journey.
Whatever you choose, please remember that doing something imperfectly is better than doing nothing at all. Every little bit helps, and the planet needs all the help it can get! So work out what you're comfortable with contributing right now, and keep bigger goals in mind for when you have increased capacity down the track.
Stay tuned for our next blog post in the series; Top 5 Quick Actions for Big Impact - #3