Support tree and forest restoration projects with a focus on biodiversity

Have you ever wondered about an easy way to collaborate with NGOs for tree planting? Have you ever asked yourself what you could do to offset your or your company’s carbon emissions?

We all have. There are now several tree-planting organizations and platforms that connect us with these organizations, but carbon offsetting is not so simple. Let’s look at the tree-planting efforts a bit more in detail before we present one such platform, Treeapp.

Carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change

Thousands of scientists are trying to understand the tangled web of trees and the fate of tropical forests in the world of massive deforestation and accelerating climate change. We now have understood that our activities increase our carbon emissions and, in essence, bring us closer to the verge of collapse as a result of human-induced global warming.

Forests, especially tropical forests are excellent carbon sequesters, however, human activities and the vicious cycle of global warming (think about the wildfires that exceed normal levels) are destroying their health.

The solution seems to be simple, but unfortunately, it is not. We might be prone to thinking that just if we increase the number of trees we will be able to sequester carbon and offset out emissions resulting from our daily activities. However, scientists currently estimate that the earth’s land ecosystems can hold enough additional vegetation to absorb between 40 and 100 gigatonnes of carbon from the atmosphere. Beyond this point, there is no capacity for additional carbon storage on land.

Unfortunately, however, our society is currently emitting CO2 at a rate of ten gigatonnes of carbon per year.

The key: forest ecosystem restoration

There are several aspects tree planting organizations need to bear in mind if they do not want to fall into the trap of not seeing the forest for the trees. The first major task is to evaluate the land and the ecosystem where trees are going to be planted because not all types of land support trees.

Moreover, if the ecosystem is largely dominated by other vegetation, planting trees in it would fail to reach the aim of carbon sequestration. Furthermore, many tree planting efforts focus on the initial rate of growth and the number of saplings planted, but these are poor indicators of the forest’s ultimate carbon storage capacity, not to mention that biodiversity is completely ignored with such aims only. Carbon capture is also not the only ecosystem service that forests provide us with. Luckily, many big organizations actually try to incorporate ecosystem health and biodiversity into their metrics of success.

Areas – Courtesy of Treeapp

Treeapp takes all these above into proper consideration. They highlight on their website that “the key benefit of trees is their carbon sequestration power, making them an essential natural solution to tackling global warming. Despite this potential, it can come at the expense of the environment. Due to the damaging effects of monoculture plantations, Treeapp only engages in projects with mixed species, the holy grail being the plantation of endemic species in continuous cover forests.” They only work with projects that are biodiverse ensuring that there are at least 15 tree species planted in each project in order to restore entire ecosystems.

They also partner with NGOs working on mangrove restoration. “To ensure maximum survival rates, all our non-mangrove tree species are planted in tree nurseries. During this time, soil is prepared, plowed and tested for moisture levels before the trees are placed in the ground. Mangroves can be planted directly and thrive best in ‘swamps’ where they dominate the landscape.”

We also should not forget to look at whether the organization cuts down older forests to plant seedlings, because mature forests definitely hold more value than planting new trees.

Most efforts to mitigate climate change and offering a solution to offset our carbon emissions focus on increasing vegetation, protecting or even expanding our existing forests, however, considerable misunderstandings are still around because if the major tree of forest planting projects focus solely on planting and not biodiversity conservation and ecosystem restoration at the same time, negative effects will paradoxically include an actual increase in CO2 concentrations. In case humans simply rush to plant millions of trees they might as a result damage the properties of a forest that are vital to our wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of forests. That’s why forest restoration should be essentially forest ecosystem restoration.

What does Treeapp help us with?

Treeapp encourages people to plant a few trees a week in order to offset the average carbon output of an EU citizen. Users can actually even calculate their own carbon footprint via the app which helps them better understand their personal impact and the ways they are causing most of their carbon emissions.

The app users can select from a variety of projects they would like to support, they can check out sponsors, and then start planting trees within the framework of the organization’s project. Planting is free because users simply need to watch a one-minute advertisement of the business sponsors of the app. The user can evaluate the projects based on their descriptions and select whichever they feel connected to. The application also allows users to track their impact.

Courtesy of Treeapp

Treeapp specifically places emphasis on working with experts from the field, so they try to avoid the above-mentioned problems associated with a lot of tree planting projects. Just to name a few they are working with Ph.D. candidates from the field of ecology, tropical ecology and conservation, and with other experts of restoration and forestry, agroforestry, and food security. The experts support the work of Treeapp by carefully selecting the best reforestation partners to work with. And that’s a key point: reforestation projects are thoroughly evaluated.

Carefully evaluated reforestation projects all around the world

Before partnering with NGOs, Treeapp evaluates a detailed questionnaire about the projects focusing on the following aspects and questions:

  • Type of trees planted in that location (native, exotic, introduced, mixed)
  • Are the plantations monoculture or mixed species
  • The annual target area of planted trees / Actual annual area of planted trees
  • Are the reforestations within 20, 50, 100km of local towns?
  • What reforestation techniques do you employ and are they based on published research? Are tree nurseries being used to grow seedlings?
  • What management techniques are employed post-planting?
  • Are locals employed to plant trees?
  • Are they paid with direct payments?
  • Aside from reforestation objectives, does your project have any agroforestry objectives, if so, what are they?

Treeapp partners with projects that produce verified VCS and Gold Standard credits; therefore, businesses can offset their carbon footprint via the application. However, they also work with local organizations that work with small-scale farmers, community planting groups, and educational programs.

Treeapp allows the user to select tree projects to support including sites in Brazil, Madagascar, Kenya, Nepal, Indonesia, Peru, Haiti, Guinea, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Burundi, and Mozambique. In their first year impact report (April 2020 – April 2021) they are proudly disclosing the successful planting of 400.000 trees.

Treeapp finds it essential to monitor the work that has been completed. They collect information from videos and drone footages regarding the current status of their restoration sites.

In the future, another way Treeapp aims to raise money is to create a marketplace for sustainable products that users would be able to order directly from the app. They are also hoping to get a B-corp Certification for the application and of course increase the number of NGOs they are working with.

While there is still a lot to achieve for restoration projects, Treeapp provides us with an easy way to support tree planting all around the world. If we become regular donors we can all make a difference. While there are certainly other applications serving the same aim, make sure to pay attention to all the above-mentioned aspects before you commit to supporting a project either directly or via an application.

Andrea Nyilas is a Life Cycle Assessment and Sustainability Consultant and a Sustainability and Environmental journalist. She holds a Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences and Policy from Central European University, in addition to a Master of Arts degree in Economics from the Corvinus University of Budapest. She is particularly interested in circular economy, natural resource management, and waste reduction.