Thank you so much for being here with us, Matt! So what inspired you to start One Tree Planted?
Thank you so much for being here with us, Matt! So what inspired you to start One Tree Planted?
So I was in sustainable food packaging, and ran Canada for EcoProducts, the largest manufacturer of sustainable food packaging, so instead of styrofoam food trays, it would be a paperboard food tray, or instead of a styrofoam coffee cup you'd have a paperboard coffee cup. A coffee cup is traditionally 4 cents, and our coffee cup was 1 or 2 cents more and were compostable, and we'd always get pushback that people didn't want to pay that difference. Our coffee cups were lined with a PLA lining instead of a petroleum lining, so they were actually compostable unlike many coffee cups. So big companies and chains would say that they didn't want to do it just because it was a LITTLE bit more - but then they would say "We want to do more to help the environment!" I said to a really large grocery chain, one of the biggest, when this came up, as the catalyst for this, I said "Put point of sale throughout your stores that you're banning styrofoam, making a commitment, but letting consumers know they have to pay 5 cents more. You'll get great visibility and PR, but you need to be the first to go there!" but they wouldn't do it. So that's when they said "Well, we wish we could do more!" and then I said "Well, plant trees man! You can make a difference." There was a company that planted a ton of trees as a goodwill effort, planting 100,000 trees last month, for a sustainability effort. And they said "That's a great idea, you start that charity, and we'll be your first customer."
So I decided to start this charity to make it easier for businesses to do more for the environment. So I did in 2014.
The idea of $1 dollar planting 1 tree is so impactful. Where did that originate?
I was literally sitting at lunch with a colleague, and it came to mind - One Tree Planted. I had no clue if you could even plant a tree for $1, but the domain was available, and I thought it sounded good, and then I started researching what it cost to get a tree in the ground! And you can do it for $1. Some regions it can be $4 to plan, others it can be 25 cents, so we try to keep it simple and consistent across the board.
You have tree planting projects with partners in North America, Latin
America, Asia and Africa. How do you determine which projects you do
The two biggest tree-planting organizations in North America is the British Columbia Ministry of Forestry, so we went with them because we wanted to work with solid organizations, and they have this "Forest for Tomorrow" initiative where the government will match the donations, and in the US, we have the United States Forestry service whom we started out with, some of our best partners are watersheds, because they actually get overlooked a lot. They are often small operations with not a lot of resources, and so when you give them $5,000 or $10,000, they maximize those dollars for their local area. So North America, the domestic donors want to give domestically, and then when you look internationally, all areas have great needs, so we share these great stories so that people can read that and say that they want to help. Our most recent campaign in Rwanda is about bringing women into the workplace.
Picking projects is based on a lot of factors. We get a lot of inquiries now. We got some funding from Major League Soccer in Ontario, and when I reached out to all these nonprofit organizations, we got so much interest back that we gave out more than we received because all the causes were so good.
And we have a lot of great networks and partners, including World Resource Institute, so we've built a network on 4 continents of vetted project proposals coming to us. So it's just a matter of having a great partner, a great project, and one that will have a big impact, once that happens throughout the year, we'll have a bunch of great projects going on but those will tend to be our priority projects. For example, this year we are prioritizing the California Reforestation Project after the wildfires, and this is one that's a big priority for us.
On the One Tree Planted site, there are a bunch of amazing and serious
facts about forests, such as that 300 BILLION tons of carbon are stored
in the Earth's forests, which helps regulate its climate by regulating atmospheric gases, stabilizing rainfall, and protecting against desertification. What are some other facts about
forests people should know?
I go to the six pillars - people don't realize that forests clean the air, the water that we drink, forests create jobs and social impact, forests create health (1 out of 4 medicines are made from forest plants), sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, and forests foster biodiversity - 80% of all animals on the planets rely on forests on their homes. In California, where the wildfires hit so hard, the spotted owl which is on the endangered species list has been displaced from that habitat, as that's where many of them live. People don't realize a ripple effect when it comes down to biodiversity connected to forests. And then with access to clean drinking water, there are so many stories that people don't realize that trees soak up the rainwater and the impurities, and then slowly release it.
That's part of the simplicity that underlies everything we do. You can throw out big numbers, so people don't grasp what it means, but when you talk about air, water and wildlife, we know those are the vital systems upon which we all depend. From WRI, World Resource Institute, the world loses 18.8 million acres of forest every year - the size of Panama. Through reforestation, they estimate we regain 10 million of that, but that's only about half. Only half of what is lost is replanted. So there's a net loss that is accumulating year after year, so that's what we are trying to help with and fill that gap some more. And so that's where programs like agroforestry really help - you have to account for that human and social impact when you're doing reforestation, as you need to build in incentives to keep those forests standing.
How can people volunteer and plant trees with your organization?
Easy! We have an events page on our website, it's at the top of the toolbar. As right now it's winter, we have a few events listed in California (as that's where plantings are happening now) but as we count down to Earth Day, starting in March, we'll be adding more events throughout North America. Our events page is focused on North America, but we do have partners where people can go abroad and be more eco-volunteers. And you can find out more about that on our website.
Sometimes companies will want to get savvy on the green side, so they'll reach out to us to ask about employee volunteering and planning an excursion to plant some trees, so we have projects we can organize for companies or group organizations just for them in that location.
And there are times of year when we do a lot of event organizing, especially spring (Earth Day) and fall (Plant a Tree day in September), so keep visiting our website to stay updated.
Can you tell us more about the Million Tree Challenge?
So the Million Tree challenge - with what happened in California - it's hard to ask a single company for $1 million. But if we can ask 500 companies to pledge $2,000 - the premise is that California this past year had the biggest wildfires, and our hope is that in the future we will find an amazing project that needs 1 million trees, and we can count on these amazing businesses to support those needs in Indonesia or Brazil.
This is our first year of doing the Million Tree Challenge. One Tree Planted was created to help businesses get involved in sustainability, as they can make such a huge impact if they build sustainability into their models, and so this campaign makes it super-simple for them to get involved - all they need to pledge is $2,000, but collectively they can make tremendous impact. By bringing together those 500 businesses, they can move towards that bigger common goal of 1 million trees planted.
This past year in 2018, One Tree Planted has planted 1.3 million trees,
helping sequester 28,312 tonnes of CO2 and support 23 species'
biodiversity. How do you celebrate these milestones?
You know, we were so busy and caught up in 2018, and starting to have these systems and processes in place... I didn't set goals, I'm not one of those who's saying "Next year I'm gonna do this!" but you feel a great sense of satisfaction in hitting these milestones that are impressive. It's wonderful to help so many organizations out there, to get so many volunteers out there. When we created Plant a Tree day, we got 1,000 people out, and 10,000 trees planted in a day - that was pretty cool. Seeing so many people rallied across so many different states and places.
Milestones are awesome, but engagement is what underlies everything. Part of our mission is to really engage with people, to inspire them to get out there and feel the dirt, feel their connection with nature. 1.3 million trees planted is great, but having all these people come out and having such an amazing day, talking about what this means to them on a deeper level, it's that which gives us a deeper feeling of satisfaction - it's hearing from everyone who's involved and what this means for them.
We have a very, very small team, and at the end of last year, our very tiny team has grown by just a little bit - 2 people. So that's a way we are celebrating - by growing our team, and scaling, and planning ahead - saying what we're doing is really effective, and we're having a positive impact. Let's talk about how we can make an even bigger impact. So this is helping us expand to grow even more this year!
How can people get involved with One Tree Planted and stay updated?
There are lots of ways. Definitely go to our website and sign up for our newsletter - that's where we share all the latest stories of the projects we've completed, new events, and other fun things. You can also follow us on social media, where we share project photos and updates. And we have a Tree Ambassador program, for people who really believe in this mission - you can sign up here, and you'll get a series of emails giving you specific steps on how to engage. And just share the mission! Please share our blog posts, doing a Facebook fundraiser where every $1 plants a tree is a great way to get friends and family involved, or email us with your questions if you have them, or if you want to get involved - we are very responsive, and even have a chatbox on our site. We hope you reach out if you have your own ideas.