The first Arbor Day, the tree planters’ holiday, was held in Nebraska in 1872, where a member of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture proposed that a day be set aside annually for tree planting. It was a huge success — over one million trees were planted in a single day.
Shortly after this first observance, other states passed legislation to observe Arbor Day each year. By 1920, more than 45 states and territorial possessions were celebrating Arbor Day. These days, even corporations are joining in.
Last Friday was National Arbor Day, kicking off or continuing a number of tree planting efforts across the country. (It’s possible that your state celebrates Arbor Day at a different time of year for optimal tree-planting times).
One long-term corporate effort at tree planting that continues is led by Enterprise-Rent-A-Car (who also partners with TerraPass to offer carbon offsets to its rental drivers). This past Arbor Day, Enterprise planted its 6 millionth tree as part of its 50 Million Tree Pledge, which funds the addition of one million trees each year for 50 years to national forests in countries where Enterprise operates. This joint effort between Enterprise, the Arbor Day Foundation, and the U.S. Forest Service has led to more than five million trees planted since the program’s launch in 2006.
**Watch Lee Broughton, Director of Corporate Sustainability, discuss Enterprise’s tree-planting initiative**
What is the value of tree planting? Enterprise says that according to the USDA Forest Service, one million trees can generate $162 billion worth of environmental benefits over 50 years; that one million trees helps restore habitats of hundreds of species of animals, many of which are threatened or endangered (Source: Arbor Day Foundation); and that one million trees can provide oxygen for up to 4 million people in one day (Source: Tree Canada Foundation).
In the fight against climate change, CO2 removed from the atmosphere through tree planting can have the same benefit as avoiding an equivalent amount of CO2 released from a power plant. So one million successfully planted and grown trees can potentially absorb 1 million tons of CO2 during their lifetime.
However, as we’ve noted previously, some controversy has always existed surrounding tree planting when they are used specifically as offset projects (not the case for Enterprise, which views this as a conservation effort). Some basic facts on sequestration from the EPA:
- The climate benefits of sequestration practices can be partially or completely reversed because terrestrial carbon can be released back to the atmosphere through decay or disturbances.
- Some sequestration practices, like tree planting and improved soil management, also reach a point where additional carbon accumulation is no longer possible. For example, mature forests will not sequester additional carbon after the trees have fully grown.
- Addressing the issues of reversibility (or permanence) and carbon saturation is important if sequestration benefits are to be compared to other greenhouse gas reductions.
Nonetheless, the overall economic and environmental benefits to tree planting are substantial. Plus they are fun to climb.