Last week the government announced the next step in their One Billion Trees programme: $240 million towards new tree planting projects. While this a win for our native habitats and the fight against climate change, businesses shouldn’t use this as an excuse to pass the buck in funding native forestry, writes Stephen Tindall.
I’ve always been a nature lover. I’ve long admired our native bush and enjoyed hiking through our scenic places like Great Barrier Island. But with climate change looming on the horizon, those hikes started to become bittersweet. I couldn’t help but wonder whether future generations would get to enjoy what I had, and how I could help ensure they could.
We know for some people, talking about climate change and asking them to take action, can have the exact opposite effect. There’s something about a big, slow-moving threat like global warming which can create apathy, denial or even nihilism in the face of overwhelming evidence that this is happening and we all need to act. This is a real challenge for people wanting to empower others to join the fight.
Then one day I had one of those thoughts which hits you like a bolt of lightning when you’re in the shower: Maybe the answer is trees? Planting more trees – specifically our native trees – could be a tangible, achievable thing New Zealanders could get involved with. It’s something anyone can do – plant a native tree in your backyard, gift a native tree to celebrate something, pop down to your local school and help out with a tree planting day – but it also scales up. Our business sector could get involved, planting trees on a large scale to offset their carbon usage, or simply to give back to New Zealand.
Tree planting could be the solution for people and businesses who are focused on investing their time and money only in measurable, effective actions against climate change – because trees offer exactly that. When native trees are planted and supported to develop into a tall, diverse native forest we get a host of benefits including storage of carbon and improved environmental values. And while exotic trees have a role to play, what I love about our natives is that they don’t need to be clear-felled and replanted every 25 years; they keep thriving and adding to our indigenous biodiversity.
Trees would also work for those paralysed by the fear of climate change because trees have many other benefits which engage people. They’re beautiful, they house our native birds, they provide places to explore and play for our children and their children, and they’re part of what makes New Zealand unique. When Captain Cook arrived in the Marlborough Sounds, he wrote that the country was completely covered in bush and the birdsong was almost deafening. Imagine if we could restore that for our future generations?
The more I dug into this idea of investing in trees, it just got better and better. So in 2015 The Tindall Foundation engaged researcher Dr David Hall, author of Pure Advantage’s Our Forest Future report, to scope the possibilities of increased native tree planting in New Zealand. Using Ministry for Primary Industries figures, Dr Hall estimated that if we set a per-capita target of planting 40 native trees for every New Zealander per year, it would be roughly enough to negate New Zealand’s average annual increase in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. We then gave that idea to the Project Crimson Trust, whom we had worked with on other large-scale tree planting projects in the past, and they brought the concept to life, through Trees That Count.
It’s amazing to watch this idea take flight. I am heartened by the government’s One Billion Trees initiative and delighted their current step towards this is to tangibly fund trees going into the ground.
But here’s the thing: I’m also scared. I’ve done the math and there’s a lot that needs to happen for us to achieve planting a billion trees within ten years. And that’s where businesses need to step up.
It might be easy to see this investment from the government as a sign that, together with the community, the trees will go in the ground regardless of businesses investing their resources. But that’s simply not true.
From a purely economic perspective, our customers expect more from us now. Kiwis, especially younger Kiwis, want businesses to be environmentally responsible. They want us to understand our carbon use and be working to offset that. And we need to step up and meet (or ideally exceed) those expectations. Recent research from Westpac backs this up, telling us that millennials were more likely to recognise humans’ contribution to global warming and were more likely to want action from business than older age groups.
But there’s also a social perspective and a huge opportunity for businesses here. If we really get this cranking, we can be a leader for other countries and get more people across the world understanding how significant planting trees can be towards the fight on climate change. I love that idea, and that’s why The Tindall Foundation has been the catalytic investment funder behind Project Crimson’s Trees That Count’s native tree planting campaign, to the tune of $2.5 million to date.
We need more trained planters, more nurseries and more land to plant on. There are job opportunities in that, and not just seasonal, because while trees need planting, they also need growing and tending year round.
There’s also an important role for iwi as kaitiaki to be leaders in this project. There are some awesome examples of iwi running their own nurseries like Ngāti Whātua Orākei in Auckland and there’s no reason why iwi can’t be supported to role model this work.
So everyone has a role to play. But the way I see it, Trees That Count makes it incredibly easy for businesses by providing them with a rewarding, measurable and easy way to fund natives, in turn supporting the thousands of planters throughout the country to increase their tree planting work.
I was recently at a planting at the Tawharanui peninsula where so many volunteers showed up to muck in, that we were able to plant 6,000 trees in two hours. I reckon Kiwis understand the importance of this work, and they’re willing to get muddy to make it happen. But we, as businesses, need to put on our gumboots and play a very real part too.