Now's the best time for big companies to lean into reforestation. Here's how, according to the CEO of a non-profit that planted 4 million trees last year
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Now’s the best time for big companies to lean into reforestation. Here’s how, according to the CEO of a non-profit that planted 4 million trees last year

Now’s the best time for big companies to lean into reforestation. Here’s how, according to the CEO of a non-profit that planted 4 million trees last year

While many of us celebrate Covid-19 slowing GHG emissions, there’s a lot left unsaid on the rise of deforestation. As of 2019, the Brazilian Amazon rainforest alone lost over 2.5 million acres due to regional deforestation. In fact, at the current rate we’re going, the Earth will lose over 18.7 million acres of forest annually. And it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. So, right now, it’s crucial companies help with reforestation so we don’t jeopardize the essence of our planet’s biodiversity.

To learn more about how companies can lean into helping with reforestation (and why now), I spoke with Matt Hill, the CEO of One Tree Planted, a non-profit that planted over 4 million trees last year, including more than 1.8 million in North America, 1.2 million in Africa, 465,000 in Asia, and 423,000 in Latin America. The company has notably partnered with companies like Netflix, Lyft, and Mastercard, according to a company spokesperson.

During our conversation, Hill shares the challenges that stand in the way of reforestation efforts—logistical and legislative—as well as non-fiscal ways companies can lean into reforestation efforts.

Understanding reforestation from a political perspective

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro's administration is known for its controversial legislation around deforestation in the Amazon. Photo Credit: Alan Santos/PR
Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration is known for its controversial legislation around deforestation in the Amazon. Photo Credit: Alan Santos/PR

While reforestation efforts have been more common in the private sector, that doesn’t mean legislation doesn’t play a role. As an example, “When the US Forest Service implements changes, it also affects where we might need to expand or reduce our presence,” Hill explained to me.

And outside of the United States, international restrictions don’t allow non-profit organizations like One Tree Planted free reign to make a global impact. A good example of this principle is the Bolsonaro administration in Brazil, which shows how regulations impact reforestation and deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

“It’s really complicated because there’s political challenges at play,” Hill told me. And to make a difference in those regions that are impacted by politics, non-profit organizations need to adapt.

“By working with local communities who are knowledgeable about the unique challenges of any given region, we listen to their needs and provide the resources to rebuild habitats, train others in sustainable practices to reduce future deforestation, and to conserve priceless local biodiversity,” Hills tells me.

Reforestation efforts aren’t just about the money

Even though large-scale reforestation seems daunting, companies have the ability to make a difference on a smaller scale. What’s often misunderstood, however, is that it’s not as simple as sending money to some distant non-profit organization.

So, how can these big companies make a difference? Hill explained to me that companies can actively advocate for change by planting trees and initiating reforestation partnerships. Most importantly, this provides a fast, positive impact over a short amount of time. Though it might seem oversimplistic, not only will this reduce atmospheric GHG, but it’ll also boost employee morale and engagement.

Another fundamental way for companies to take action rather than donating is by reevaluating their current supply chain. “Using monitoring technology to know if your supply chains is causing deforestation is a great first step,” Hills tells me.

But let’s say a company still needs raw resources in their supply chain to run their business. Instead of completely scrapping their product, there are sustainable “dupes” for trees that can work just as well. A tree alternative, for example, is bamboo which will resprout when naturally cut down, Hill suggested.

Critical areas of deforestation

Credit: Mongabay
Credit: Mongabay

In order to really combat deforestation, we have to look abroad. One of the largest areas of deforestation is unsurprisingly in the Amazon rainforest. To provide some scale, this ecosystem spans across eight different Latin American countries and encompasses 1.4 billion acres of forest.

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Yet, the “buffer zone,” between Tambopata National Reserve, Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, and the city of Puerto Maldonado is identified as high-risk for agricultural deforestation. Organizations like OneTreePlanted have focused on this region, resulting in the conservation of habitats for jaguars and other species in the area.

Hill also said his team is working on increasing the effectiveness of its agriculture. “We also have a farming cooperative established within the community which provides technical assistance and training for participants in the sustainable agroforestry model,” he explains.

Why the pandemic is a good time to lean into corporate sustainability

Even though carbon emissions have been reduced due to Covid-19, climate change is not stopping anytime soon. Hill believes “while understandably some businesses are struggling, others are weathering this storm and have more time on their hands to actually plan for the future, reflect on what matters to the business and employees, and implement a solid CSR (corporate social responsibility) program.”

Especially after seeing the response of the United States to the pandemic, future disease outbreak prevention efforts are crucial. Factors such as climate change, environmental destruction, and wildlife habitat destruction all lead to the spread of zoonotic diseases.

Big businesses often have the capital and resources to contribute to initiatives they care about. Now, it’s time for them to make reforestation a priority and pick up where the government left off.

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