THE GOAL IS AMBITIOUS: conserve, restore and grow 1 trillion trees worldwide by 2030. As the first chapter of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 1t.org platform, the United States is stepping up to the challenge. Just one year after launching, more than 70 U.S.-based corporations, governments and nonprofit organizations have joined the 1t.org US Chapter.
Together, they have contributed billions in financing, led a diverse array of forest management and workplace development activities, and pledged to conserve, restore and grow over 50 billion trees worldwide.
This dedicated network of forest allies and advocates aims to create healthy forests in rural and urban areas that can help slow climate change, clean the air and water, generate jobs, and provide habitat for wildlife and nature for people to enjoy.
Behind the high-profile pledges are hundreds of people working together to get the work done. They are bringing the pledges to life. The following stories highlight the essential work that comes from them. From members of The Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Network (SFLR), to the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), employees of REI Co-op, and the communities and local leaders of the City of Dallas, it takes people power and collaborative partnerships to achieve the trillion trees goal.
As a cooperative — an enterprise democratically owned by its members — REI is comfortable with partnership and collaboration. REI, an outdoor and recreational retailer, was formed in 1938 under the mantra that “a life outdoors is a life well-lived.” Over the decades, as the climate crisis and its impacts on the outdoors and on society became increasingly harsh, REI began looking for more impactful ways to engage its community in environmental and social advocacy.
“In the outdoor industry, we ask, ‘what’s our value-add?’” says Marc Berejka, director of community advocacy and impact at REI. “From REI’s perspective, we think we ought to be leaning into strategies that reinforce and reinvigorate the health of our natural environment. Trees are the quintessential tool to meet that need. Let’s not forget that healthy forests mean healthy soils, mean clean water, mean clean air, mean great places to recreate, camp, hang out. If we’re talking about climate, forests are fundamental.”
In partnership with the National Forest Foundation — as well as REI’s 20 million lifetime co-op members and nearly 15,000 employees — REI has pledged to plant at least 1 million trees across U.S. National Forests over the next decade. But the work doesn’t stop there for Berejka and the REI team. In addition, the cooperative pledged this year to cut the company’s greenhouse gas emissions in half and launched the REI Cooperative Action Network as a means of more deeply engaging community members. Fittingly, the first action item on the newly formed network has both a forest and a climate focus: Help pass the Repair Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees (REPLANT) Act, legislation that also is supported by American Forests.
“The more of us who are working on this together, the further we can get faster,” Berejka explains. “Cooperative Action Network is our name for the network, of course, but also we really believe in the power of cooperative action. There’s so much to being part of the 1t.org com- munity, even beyond addressing climate change. By all these different stakeholders linking arms under the 1t.org banner, we’re driving additional value back into the environment and society.”
Asked what he thinks individuals and commu- nities should do to help make a difference, Berejka stresses the importance of pairing community efforts like tree planting with civic engagement and advocacy.
“It’s noisy out there, there are a lot of dis- tractions and things calling for our attention,” Berejka says. “One of the inspiring things about the 1t.org mission is that it’s a call to action.
When you look at a tree, I’d like people to realize how much that tree is really giving back. And once you’ve got that in hand, what’s next? Think about how can you raise awareness with more people, who can you get involved with, what steps can you take.”
Between 1865 and 1919, African Americans amassed 15 million acres of forests and other land across the American South. Now, just a century later, 97% of that land has been lost or stolen, due to inadequate or non-existent legal representation, discrimination in lending practices, unethical purchases, racism and myriad other factors.
SFLR helps African American forest owners realize the value of their lands so that forests are seen as an asset, not a burden. The organization works with landowners to address heirs’ property issues — when familial land has been passed down without legal documentation, such as a will. The organization also educates landowners about the value of forests and how to responsibly manage them. SFLR provides the tools and connections to level the playing field for African American landowners, who have historically not had equal access to resources or equal ability to maintain forestlands. Their ultimate goal: keeping African American lands “forested and in the family.”
“The SFLR program is bringing to the landowners’ attention how the economic impact of managing their land can be a benefit to family members — especially to the ones coming behind them, such as their children and grandchildren,” says Herman Baker, an SFLR program participant in Georgia.
Recognizing that African American forestland owners face unique hurdles and require specialized support to keep their land healthy, productive and in the family, SFLR’s 1t.org pledge includes wrap-around support for them. This includes programming to connect African American landowners to financial and technical resources to help them conserve and manage the land most effectively, as well as land tenure education, legal assistance and the development of a forestry jobs pipeline for African American youth. In order to provide these services across their eight anchor sites (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas), SFLR and their members work with a network of federal and local partners, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), American Forest Foundation and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities.
“Access to resources and information is really key,” says John Littles, executive director of McIntosh Sustainable Environment and Economic Development (McIntosh SEED), the SFLR anchor site in Georgia. “Heirs’ property rights are extremely complicated, and not every owner knows how to navigate that system correctly. There are even certain landowners who don’t know that property taxes have to be paid every year.”
“Our partnerships, with anchor site leaders, 1t.org, USDA and others are critical to our ability to serve African American forest owners across the South,” says Ebonie Alexander, executive director of the Black Family Land Trust in Virginia. “Through partnerships, we can become more visible, and the more visible we are, the easier it is for African American forest owners to find us and connect to the critical resources that will help them keep their lands forested and in the family.”
Scouts may start out small in stature, but with a global community of 1.7 million girls and their families spanning 152 countries, the Girl Scouts’ impact is anything but. Fueled by their passion for protecting and preserving our planet, GSUSA — with support from the Elliott Wildlife Values Project and American Forests — launched the Girl Scout Tree Promise this year. It is a national initiative to plant 5 million trees across the United States by 2026.
“When we were looking at how to address the climate crisis,” says GSUSA National Director of Outdoor Strategy Amanda Daly, “it was important to me and my colleagues that we were providing our girls with a solution-based action, not a crisis- focused one. By committing to 1t.org to plant 5 million trees, our girls can serve as both change makers and stewards. Girl Scouts are blazing the trail for youth to lead on the climate crisis.”
From Girl Scout Daisies to Ambassadors to family members and community partners, every member and friend of the GSUSA movement has a role in helping to reach the tree goal. At roughly five months into their 1t.org pledge, GSUSA already has over 34,000 trees in the ground — in every state, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The organization is using resources from American Forests to ensure the right trees are planted in the right places. For Kelly McDonald, staff for Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey (GSHNJ), the Tree Promise program couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We had already been working on some tree-focused activity in New Jersey through an online program called Speak for the Trees, which was all about learning why trees are awesome and what their superpowers are,” McDonald says. “By the time we launched Tree Promise as a local council, our girls were so excited. As fast as we built the programs, they filled up. We couldn’t keep up with demand.”
Between February and May, more than 560 New Jersey girls along with family and community members planted 4,418 trees. In reflecting on what’s made GSHNJ’s programs so successful, McDonald emphasizes how important partner relationships have been in engaging her Girl Scouts and the community on environmental and climate issues.
“We have a chance with the Tree Promise to raise an entire generation of girls who care about making the world a better place, who care about conserving and restoring our nation’s forests,” says McDonald. “The partnerships that Tree Promise has helped us form, like with the AmeriCorps Watershed Ambassador Program, Sourland Conservancy and South Mountain Conservancy, and the volunteers it’s driven to us are resources that are going to help our girls lead in their community and be champions for environmental justice for years to come.”
After being pummeled by 16 different natural disasters in 2017, the U.S. set a new record high for costs related to extreme weather and major climate-related disasters: roughly $306 billion, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Texas was among the states worst hit that year: Hurricane Harvey killed more than 70 people and caused approximately $125 billion in damage. With the human and financial costs from extreme weather events expected to continue rising, many Texas state and municipal leaders have joined forces with partners at the national level to help develop sustainable solutions. Assistant Director of Dallas’ Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability Susan Alvarez credits strong partnerships for much of the success her department has seen in developing and implementing climate-smart forestry initiatives.
“I’m just one person,” says Alvarez, “so it’s been amazing to be able to connect with community- level experts, as well as with the global 1t.org community. That network lets me learn from other pledges and find new resources and inspiration for our Dallas Urban Forest Initiative. It’s especially helpful to know that other cities are experiencing the same challenges and to learn how they’ve dealt with them.”
Together with her partners, Alvarez has developed several multi-faceted initiatives to combat the extreme heat, flooding and poor air quality caused by tree canopy loss and climate change.
Key elements include protecting 6,000 acres of hardwood bottomland forest in the Great Trinity Forest; implementing the Branching Out Dallas program to plant an estimated 31,000 native trees in the city over the next 10 years; and implementing Dallas’ Urban Forest Management Plan, a cohesive plan to plant, protect, maintain, preserve and increase urban canopy.
To achieve their ambitious goals, Dallas officials knew that they would need to work closely with community members and local experts.
“The key to this work is in building healthy, open and honest relationships,” Alvarez says. “We had some resistance going in, and we had to work through that — mostly by being pests. We held a lot of meetings and worked very hard to build consensus. The public voice is powerful. We’re doing this initiative, doing our climate plan because our community showed up at our budget meetings and demanded we talk about these things.”
President and CEO of the Texas Trees Foundation Janette Monear, who works closely with Alvarez on the Dallas pledge and Urban Forest Initiative, underscored how important community collaboration has been to the city’s pledge progress.
“Through these partnerships, you can get so much more done,” Monear says. “Susan and I are texting back and forth at night and on the weekend. We’re collaborating because we have a relationship that’s open and built on trust. When you have that kind of (connection), it’s amazing what can happen.”
A GLOBAL COMMUNITY
As we pass this milestone of 50 billion trees and look down the road to 1 trillion trees, Goodall’s words about connections ring truer than ever. Now is the time for all of us — big, small and in between — to do our part. Dedicated advocates like those at SFLR, GSUSA, REI and the city of Dallas are leading the way and showcasing how community partnerships can help us conserve, restore and grow our way to 1 trillion trees.
Reana Kovalcik serves as a communications advisor for American Forests and the Forest-Climate Working Group.
To learn more about 1t.org, visit us.1t.org.