Sustainability. Is it secretly seeping through your pours? It is high on the agenda everywhere and companies cannot escape thinking about their climate impact either.
Here’s a good example: among social entrepreneurs a movement is emerging in recent years that switches from Black Friday to Green Friday. It’s about stopping bargain madness. Planting trees. But how green is planting trees really? A genius green solution or a form of greenwashing?
As complex as these questions are, we'd like to take you through this topic. By the end of this blog, you'll be able to tell exactly:
More and more companies are joining a tree-planting project. Not surprisingly: planting trees is an easy way to achieve your sustainable goals if you only use CO2 emissions as your baseline.
In addition, planting trees is concrete and the consumer understands the impact. Planting trees sounds a lot more attractive than sharing technical details about a part of the production chain that is sustainable. Planting trees is worthy of marketing.
A quick calculation is made: the amount of CO2 that the company emits is offset by the number of trees that store the CO2 again. The amount needed to plant these trees is transferred to the respective planting project… and…voila!
But.. how effective is this really?
First thing first, it’s have a look at the definition of greenwashing. Milieudefensie (a Dutch organization) defines it as follows:
"Greenwashing is a marketing trick. Companies use this trick to appear sustainable in order to polish their image. They have a lot of nice talk about being green, while they just continue to pollute the climate and environment." (source: milieudefensie)
So planting trees can be greenwashing. It is a safe and especially quick way to create a green image while not changing anything about a service or product.
But planting trees is not a quick fix for the rest of your production chain. Planting trees is a nice part of making an organization more sustainable.
In fact, planting trees in itself says little about how ethically the company actually does business. If it is a way to distract customers from the rest of the production chain and the pollution that comes with it. The focus on planting trees is then used as a way to divert attention.
It is therefore important that a company also reduces its own CO2 emissions. This gets to the heart of the problem. If a company wants to offset emissions and starts planting trees, but does not change anything about the source of the emissions, then it is greenwashing. It’s the equivalent of mopping the floor while the tap is still open. And thus, buying extra mops - instead of ... right; turning off the tap.
In other words, planting trees cannot be the only solution to corporate sustainability. It is not a free pass to do what they please and not have to think about the environmental impact of the production chain.
The thing is, planting trees is a lot easier than making systematic changes in the production chain. That often costs more and is a big investment. Quite a green dilemma.
At the same time, it is difficult to judge companies on this. Even at Bambook, we are not perfect - and there are still steps to be taken to make our production chain more sustainable. It can always be done better and greener. We can always point fingers at others. But if planting trees is the first step that can be taken within a company, that is also something to be proud of.
So our No. 1 tip around this issue is: be critical, but not judgmental.
CO2 offsetting doesn't end with planting trees. In fact, that's just where it begins! Because the process of sapling to a tree can be a long process. And within that timeline, anything can go wrong. Also, planting trees is not the same as creating a forest. We’ll explain that in just a second.
Planting trees, of course, says nothing about how many saplings actually grow into a large tree. Whether a tree grows well depends on many factors. For example, the care of the tree and whether it is planted in the right soil in the right conditions.
A vulnerable process, so a term you hear more and more often is Phantom Forests: forests that exist on paper but are not actually there. Simply because the trees died shortly after being planted.
Should the sapling grow into a tree, by now decades have passed until the CO2 emissions are offset. But we don't have decades to bring our emissions down. If we want to get the earth to no more than 1.5 degrees, we need to reduce emissions by more than half within 10 years. (source: Greenpeace)
Creating a forest is so much more than just planting the trees. A forest is about biodiversity, a complete ecosystem, soil life, and a home for animals. This is not created overnight; it takes decades.
The creation of a monoculture (only the same trees) or wrong trees (no native trees: trees that occur naturally in the area and contribute to biodiversity) must be avoided. (source: Circular Stories)
Did you know that a row of the same kind of trees also absorbs much less CO2 than rich, biodiverse forests? So that makes the massive tree-planting ideas that corporations have, a less-than-ideal solution.
Especially since we still have plenty of ancient, biodiverse forests continuing to be cut down around the world. Protecting those first would be a lot more efficient, according to Greenpeace. (source: Greenpeace)
When tree planting grows into a biodiverse forest, the domino effect is set in motion and the positive impact is enormous. The tree is planted and cared for, creating jobs for local communities. This allows them to support their families. Children can go to school. Animals find their safe haven in the forest again, and more food becomes available through fertile soil. Thus, planting trees is like a domino that brings about a lot more.
But the domino effect can go two ways. Scenario two is: that the company has trees planted while maintaining their polluting production chain. As a result, the consumer believes they are contributing positively, buys more products from the company and the cycle continues. It’s a case of doomsday.
Still, we're excited about tree planting on Green Friday. Even though indiscriminate planting is never the solution and has many snags - it is nice to be a breath of fresh again against the Black Friday madness. It starts with awareness and small steps.
But as a consumer, be critical. The idea that you can easily eliminate your climate impact by planting trees makes it tempting to consume more. The feeling is that your impact is then simply 0, or that by buying you actually make a positive climate impact. That, of course, is not true.
So: do your research, be critical, and don't be fooled. Only then will the domino effect of planting trees tick in the right & especially the green direction!
Bambook has been affiliated with the Eden Reforestation Projects reforestation project in Madagascar; a planting project we fully support. We plant 4 different trees and the areas are managed by the local community. We do this for every product sold. You can read more here!