By Doyle Irvin

Rich Brown

DETROIT. Oakland. Cleveland and Miami. Hartford, and Atlanta. What do these cities have in common? They all have benefited from American Forests’ Community ReLeaf program, which has improved the health of 16 cities across the United States. Begun in 2013 as a partnership between American Forests, Bank of America and the U.S. Forest Service, Community ReLeaf has grown into a nationwide program that impacts the daily lives of local residents.

“There is a certain immediate gratification that comes from planting a tree and connecting in your local community,” says Rich Brown, Bank of America’s Senior Vice President for their Environmental, Social and Governance group. As part of Bank of America’s $125 billion environmental business initiative, Community ReLeaf is part of its strategy to contribute to its goals of a greener future — it’s not just about immediate gratification. “True satisfaction,” Rich asserts, comes from “the long-term community benefits of that tree.”

The initial attraction to this collaboration, for each partner, was that both American Forests and Bank of America were driven to implement a data-driven, scientifically vetted initiative to improve low- and middle-income communities, an initiative emphasizing aid with a long-term impact and fostering community involvement.

Every tree is a vehicle for carbon storage and water purification, but urban forests, in particular, have the added rewards of cooling heat islands, enhancing safety, immediately filtering vehicular smog and beautifying the streets — to name just a few. These are just the positives that the trees provide all on their own. There is an entire extra echelon of advantages on top of that, when a community organizes to invest its own sweat and effort as well.

“We have seen wonderful community- building as a result of these projects,” says Rich. “Not only have neighbors, local businesses, community groups and Bank of America employees joined together to help plant trees, but we’ve also seen a stronger community grow out of these connections.”

Bank of America’s support of the environment contributes holistically to these efforts, providing not just financing but also motivating its own employees to take part in the plantings. On top of this, the company has doubled down in cities like Detroit and Miami, reinvesting again and again in the local infrastructure and building long-term local capacity for managing those urban forests. Part of the inspiration for this comes from the cities embracing American Forests and Bank of America’s efforts.

“These are cities where there is a strong commitment at the community level as well as the city leader level,” says Rich. He understands what kind of dividends comes from that kind of strong commitment, going on to say, “I have four large maple trees that line the sidewalk in front of my home, and our entire neighborhood is filled with similar trees. I am the beneficiary of those who came before me and had the vision and wisdom to know the value of urban trees. Community ReLeaf is providing that vision and wisdom for generations to come in cities across America. How cool is that?”


Doyle Irvin contributes to American Forests’ magazine and Loose Leaf blog, and is passionate about protecting the environment and investing in the future of our planet.