As climate change intensifies, what’s under-recognized in the global debate is that one of the most powerful antidotes to the escalating destruction is also one of the simplest and most affordable: trees.
Trees absorb more than two billion tons of carbon globally every year -- equivalent to one third of annual fossil fuel emissions, while cleaning our air and protecting our precious drinking water. Just one acre of hardwood trees can offset the entire carbon footprint of 18 people. Each tree we plant is a stalwart protector of our planet, but leading experts warn we’re not planting enough trees to mitigate the impact of a changing climate.
Between 1990 when scientists from around the world gathered for the World Climate Conference in Geneva and 2017, carbon emissions increased 163 percent. During this same period, diplomats crisscrossed the globe again and again, negotiating the Kyoto Protocol, the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit and the Paris Climate Accord. Yet carbon emissions have continued to skyrocket.
Billions have also been invested in renewable energies to replace fossil fuels. These non-carbon energy sources show great promise, but after decades of concerted effort, renewable energies – like wind and solar power – account for only 20 percent of total energy consumption worldwide.
These solutions alone have not been successful.
A future that’s coming into sharp focus -- of a planet with unbreathable air, polluted water, and devastated parks and forests -- is landing most powerfully with young professionals. People under age 30 identify “climate change and the destruction of nature” as the world’s most urgent problem, ahead of war and inequality, according to global surveys by the World Economic Forum in 2017 in 186 countries.
Dubbed the Change Generation, Gen Z and younger millennials are taking over the global workforce. Increasingly, they seek employment with socially responsible companies committed to a greater purpose. Nearly 90 percent of millennials would consider taking a pay cut to work at a company whose mission and values align with their own, according to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Culture Trends report. Further, 89 percent expect employers to provide hands-on activities around environmental responsibilities in the workplace.
Will a global movement from these activist employees who comprise nearly 30 percent of the workforce compel businesses to find real solutions for climate change? Will the competition for talent drive more and more companies to take a hard look at what they can do to attract and retain these eco-focused workers?
If so, tree planting and what it represents is a corporate social responsibility (CSR) pathway that any business can adopt and scale to create authentic employee engagement opportunities. You don’t need to be a multinational corporation to do it; even a single tree can have impact, absorbing as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide every year. A 10-employee start-up can participate and contribute easily and cost-effectively.
A global awakening to the urgent need to plant more trees is already underway. Reforestation of historic proportion is transforming the landscape in many countries, notably in China, India and most recently Australia, which earlier this year committed to a massive tree planting program that will continue for decades.
The Arbor Day Foundation is proud to be part of this broad global crusade. Our new Time for Trees™ initiative pledges us and our corporate partners to plant 100 million trees worldwide by the year 2022. The companies that have joined us range from small businesses on the cusp of expansion to global brands with deep sustainability roots; all are connected by a common passion to preserve our planet.
Companies that commit to sustainability efforts like tree planting enjoy not only increased brand loyalty – and in turn, increased sales, but a more committed, engaged workforce that recognizes their employer shares their values and reflects a greater vision for a healthier planet.
Together we can address the most critical challenge we all face, provide powerful experiences for employees and plant a better future for all of us, one tree at a time.