As a wise, mustached, orange creature once said, “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” You may recall the famed Lorax from the imagination of Dr. Seuss. He was right, of course! Trees are critically important to the health and wealth of our shared planet but have no voice in how they’re used or cared for.
More than 60,000 types of trees cover 31% of the planet, but we’re losing tree coverage at an alarming rate. In tropics regions alone, more than 30 soccer fields worth of trees were lost each minute of 2019 due to deforestation for the sake of agriculture.
The benefits of trees are felt across all sectors—trees are important not only to the health of the earth’s ecosystems, but also to the health of our economies and our society. That’s why Derrick Emsley, CEO and Co-founder of tentree, started his company to protect and grow trees around the world. tentree isn’t an apparel company that plants trees, they’re a tree planting company that sells apparel.
Learn why trees are so important and how they’re at the core of tentree’s business model in this episode of the Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast.
What Is the Importance of Trees?
Trees offer our planet more than beauty, they also mitigate climate change, provide job security, and make cities livable.
The Importance of Trees in the Environment
Trees play a key role in combating climate change because they absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Trees actually provide us humans with the air we breathe, while removing harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the environment. Over the course of a year, one mature tree can release 260 pounds of oxygen and can sequester more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis.
More than just that, trees improve water quality and reduce soil erosion as well. Trees act as buffers for extreme weather events, help absorb stormwater, and reduce the runoff of dangerous pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides into waterways. Tree leaves also prevent harsh wind and rain from eroding the soil, while tree roots hold soil in place.
Trees in all their stages of life have a significant role to play both in the urban forests of the United States and the deep rainforest of the Amazon. Both young and old trees, and even decomposing trees, all provide wildlife habitats for creatures of all kinds to feed, breed, and contribute to the well-being of the ecosystem.
The Importance of Trees For Human Health
Just as trees help ecosystems to thrive, they also contribute largely to human health and wellbeing. Forest bathing, or the practice of spending time in densely forested areas, can increase immune function through the increased activity of natural killer (NK) cells, a type of white blood cell, and even anti-cancer proteins. Additionally, plants and trees emit antimicrobial organic compounds called phytoncides that act as a protective measure against fungi and bacteria. When humans breathe these in, it can contribute to better overall health. The presence of trees and green spaces can improve healing and can even help employees work better.
Trees are a calming and grounding presence—spending time with them can ease anxiety, stress, and depression for many people and has been shown to decrease the production of adrenaline, the stress hormone. Because of their amazing ability to enhance human health and wellbeing, tentree is working to expand access to green spaces and increase the quality of life for people around the world.
The Importance of Trees in the Economy
Not only does forestry contribute to human health, it also helps maintain a healthy economy. The use of forested areas for recreation and tourism yields millions of dollars annually in protected areas like national parks. The planting and monitoring of trees also increases employment rates. In tentree’s most plentiful tree planting initiative in Madagascar, hundreds of people have been employed to restore coastal Mangroves and build up inland trees. To date, more than 25 million trees have been planted in Madagascar through tentree and their local partners.
In Haiti, tentree has planted 700,000 trees with Plant With Purpose to help farmers who depend on the land for economic survival. tentree helps plant 60 varieties of trees for the farmers to protect their crops from soil erosion and natural disasters. Additionally, fruit-bearing trees nourish the farming communities in which they grow and help to combat the food shortage that persists in Haiti.
For home and business owners, trees increase property value and spending. When strategically placed, trees can also reduce the cost of air conditioning, which can help save energy at home.
The Importance of Trees in Urban Environments
Cities remain liveable in part to the tremendous contribution of trees. Trees actively remove air pollutants like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, which negatively impact human health and are abundant in city landscapes. Trees can also absorb particulates, which is crucial in many cities where particulate matter is especially high. In Chicago, for instance, trees remove more than 18,000 tons of air pollution each year. Because of their tremendous impact, cities like Varanasi in India are investigating which species of trees are most effective at reducing air pollution in order to initiate tree planting projects for the purpose of improving public health.
The presence of trees in urban environments also battles the heat island effect, or the concentrated heat in cities that is caused by pavement and other dense structures absorbing an excess of solar energy. Trees play a big role in reducing heat by providing shade and evaporating water from their leaves. This evaporation mimics how humans sweat to cool, but in this case, the city benefits from that cooling effect.
Studies have shown that trees might help reduce crime too. In Baltimore, an increase of tree cover by 10% yielded a 12% decrease in crime. Another study conducted on violence in public housing showed a correlation between aggression and the absence of greenery, ultimately concluding that in more barren buildings, instances of violence were higher.
These findings demonstrate just how crucial trees are in our cities and why urban planners must prioritize them. With more trees, cities are more livable and residents are healthier, safer, and happier.
tentree: 10 Trees Planted Per Order
tentree is a mission-driven tree-planting company that sells apparel. This Certified B Corp and environmentally conscious business has planted 50 million trees since their inception in 2012, and they’re only growing.
tentree partners with thoughtfully chosen charitable organizations around the world to plant trees. They regularly visit sites to ensure that each tree planting project is providing multiple benefits for the surrounding communities. As a result of tentree’s high standard for transparency, millions of trees have been planted through their collaborations in Peru, Indonesia, Canada, Brazil, Senegal, Madagascar, and Kenya.
tentree’s impact is far and wide. For example, the tentree projects in Peru are ensuring water security and protecting the environment and communities of the Andes mountains. This tentree project plants native Polylepis forests to sequester carbon, ensure freshwater for local communities, and rejuvenate the entire watershed that serves the Amazon. Since the land isn’t as dry, it also works to protect the area from dangerous fires and high temperatures.
In addition to planting trees, tentree is redefining the fashion industry by using sustainable materials like organic cotton, hemp, recycled polyester, and TENCEL™. The company partners with ethical manufacturers to ensure that the highest standards are met for employee wellbeing, sustainability, and transparency.
Derrick Emsley, CEO & Co-founder of tentree
Growing up during the era of The Inconvenient Truth and early doomsday talk of climate change, Derrick turned towards action as a way to empower those interested in climate reform.
He and his brother founded Greenfield Carbon Offsetters in high school as a way for companies to offset their carbon emissions through tree planting. In their four years of operation, the company planted 150,000 trees.
Derrick’s affinity for entrepreneurship and sustainability only just began. In 2012, he co-founded tentree to remedy both the polluting fashion industry and to address the continued progression of climate change. Derrick’s previous experiences in ethical tree planting projects secured a strong foundation for the growth of tentree.
“We don’t want to guilt people for not being good enough. We want to help them take that first step. So for us, our community is really this idea of, it’s a community of imperfect environmentalists, because our belief is that the world doesn’t get changed by a million perfect environmentalists, it gets changed by billions of imperfect ones.”
Take Action: How to Save the Trees
- Ditch Paper: Where you can, try to use alternatives to paper like stone paper notebooks from A Good Company, Bamboo toilet paper, or seed cards from tentree.
- Plant a Tree: Do some research to see if your area has tree planting events. These are often put on by forest services or nonprofit organizations. A great benefit of volunteering is it can provide way to learn how to plant trees and experience their benefit firsthand.
- Support Conservation: Organizations like Casey Trees in Washington DC and The Arbor Day Foundation are in the business of planting trees and educating the public on all things tree-related. Donate your time, dollars, or sign up for their newsletters to learn more about why trees are so important for the planet and people on it.
- Purchase Ethical Goods: Specifically shade-grown and fair trade coffee promotes land conservation in rainforests. Supporting regenerative agriculture also benefits trees because many farmers use agroforestry to cultivate healthier soil. You can also buy eco-friendly gifts, vote with your dollar by choosing companies fighting climate change or use our Buy Ensemble Directory to find ethical companies.
- Use Ecosia: Did you know that there’s a search engine that plants trees every time you search? Search with Ecosia to plant trees right from your home!
- Get Out There!: Spending time in nature is the best way to appreciate it. Take your friends and family on walks, hikes, or bikes to experience the wonder of trees.
Closing: Speak for the Trees
Trees aren’t only a part of the forests they occupy, they’re a part of a global ecosystem that includes our homes, our landscaping, our cities, and our parks. Trees preserve biodiversity by creating wildlife habitats, improve air quality while actively fighting climate change, protect our soils from extreme weather and erosion, and increase the health and wellbeing of communities. Is there anything a tree can’t do?!
Whether we are volunteering with conservation groups, supporting companies making a difference, or taking a walk in the woods, we can all work to be the voices trees need. How will you speak for the trees?
Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode:
- tentree on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube
- The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky
Sustainable Workplaces Manager & Writer
Jackie is the Sustainable Workplaces Manager at Urban Green Lab, a sustainability education nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s passionate about connecting people with actionable ways to make a positive impact on the environment. She graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in Environmental Studies and a certificate in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Jackie worked in the nonprofit world in Washington D.C. for Ashoka and the National Building Museum.
Jackie enjoys hiking with her rescue dog, finding craft breweries, and traveling the globe in search of plant-based eats.