You would think that planting a million trees in a city that brands itself ‘The Forest City” would be a real walk in the park. But as with all good and noble causes, it’s never easy – in fact it’s a real challenge.
But that is precisely what the good people behind the Million Tree Challenge have taken on. A massive, audacious, in your face challenge that is designed to set London on its ear or more accurately, to put some real numbers behind our Forest City brand.
The mission sounds simple. Convince or inspire Londoners to plant one million trees over the next ten years. Phase one of the mission, calls on every Londoner (about 350,000 of us) to plant one tree over the next three years by the end of 2014. Sounds simple right? Not!
The case for tree planting is a relatively easy sell if you are among the environmentally savvy group we like to call tree huggers. There I said it. But the fact is they already get it (the mission). The challenge for the Million Tree group is not with this group, the challenge is with business and industry to get on board and move the numbers over the top.
Yes there are some outstanding examples of businesses and corporations that already do a great job of planting trees in a strategic, well thought out manner. Trojan Technologies, Trudell Medical and Union Gas all come to mind. But, sadly they are among the few that have a plan and a corporate philosophy behind their plantings. And, there are a vast number of homeowners and home builders that do an equally good job. Here again, not enough of them to get the job done.
So why trees in the first place and is London really in a position to lay claim to the Forest City mantle? Actually – not so much. While it’s true that London has 4.4 million trees and a leaf cover of over 24%, sadly we are well below the 40% recommended leaf cover according to the American Forests and with only 7.3% woodland cover we are not even close to the 30% recommended by Environment Canada.
So what to do and what exactly is the business case for a million trees? Why would the Chamber guy bother to write about it? Well it’s really quite simple. Trees make money and they save money. And trees cost money too. In fact if we had to replace London’s trees within our Urban Growth Boundary, the tab would be an eye-popping $1.5 billion.
Trees as we know are the lungs of our cities and towns and one mature tree produces enough oxygen for 4 people each year. Planted near buildings and homes, trees save Londoners over $1.7 million a year in heating and cooling costs and act as a windbreak in the winter reducing heating and cooling costs by as much as 30%.
Trees can and do increase property values by as much as 20% and just one tree over a 50 year period creates $62,000 worth of pollution control. And trees are a natural storm water management system catching and holding water in their leaves and roots. Trees and other vegetation break the fall of the water and ease its impact on the ground below. And roots hold the soil in place.
Trees fight air pollution in more ways than one. By reducing temperatures, they slow chemical processes that raise the ozone level. Studies at California’s Lawrence Berkely Laboratory indicate 30 percent of a city’s air pollution is related to increased temperatures. The studies show that each degree above 72 degrees increases smog chances by 6 percent. San Antonio for instance, is near the level of air pollution at which federal law can start limiting the construction of new factories. So air pollution is very directly related to our economic development. Could this happen in London? Food for thought.
Trees also fight pollution by taking tons of carbon dioxide out of the air, holding on to the carbon and releasing oxygen.
In the retail sector, trees (or their absence) can have a huge influence on visual preference, place perceptions, patronage behaviors and product pricing. Studies have proven that entertainment and shopping times are increased with trees and that a tree canopy boosts time spent by up to 50%. Consumer preferences are lower without trees, higher with (large) trees and product pricing goes up as consumers are willing to pay
9-12% higher with trees than without – who knew?
Certainly London is not unique in its challenge of maintaining or growing a healthy urban forest. Like other cities the pressures of land use, growth, tree diseases and pests, road construction and vandalism are just some of the threats to our urban forests. But many of these same cities (even those without Forest in their name) have accepted the challenge and have begun an aggressive campaign to plant trees and add to their leaf cover.
Should London do any less? I certainly hope not. After all we have a brand to protect, future generations to consider, and a solid business case for getting on board. For my money, London’s Million Tree Challenge is exactly what we need in this City but we’ll need to act fast if we want to achieve our collective goal of 1 million trees by 2021.
Want to be part of a really sensible, audacious grassroots (okay tree roots) movement? Then simply get on board and be part of the Million Tree Solution. Just go to http://www.milliontrees.ca and get started. London the Forest City is counting on you.