Plant trees, or protect our rainforest, what's best for our future?
More and more we see companies boasting about their tree planting initiatives. Whether they offer it to their clients with each purchase, or whether they do it to offset their own carbon emissions, the fact that we’re seeing companies talk about this so often is an encouraging sign that our society is more and more accepting of the realities of climate change. But it is fair to wonder, does this particular effort have any real positive impact on the environment? Some companies are convinced of its efficacy, while others use it more as a form of greenwashing. Let’s dig deeper to find out how beneficial tree planting can be.
What’s the impact of planting a tree?
As a consumer, you regularly run into companies who plant trees with your purchase. Maybe it’s your local coffee shop, or maybe it’s the company behind the brand of clothes you’re currently wearing, but either way, it’s highly likely you’ve encountered this phenomenon recently. We’ve also been seeing certain nations’ governments getting onboard. For example, in 2020, Canada pledged to plant 2 billion trees. It’s safe to say that the exploration of tree planting as a solution to our current climate emergency is valid and relevant. However, some climate specialists are sounding the alarm, claiming that tree planting can be doing more harm than good. This may be surprising, but in fact, the trees themselves wouldn’t be the issue, but rather the practices employed by the industries undertaking the reforestation initiatives.
One of the more common issues that arises during reforestation is that only one variety of tree will be planted within a given area. This technique therefore does not mimic the way that forests in nature regrow and repopulate, which is to say haphazardly and in conjunction with a variety of different species. These monocultures are planted because it facilitates the harvest of the resource when comes time to consume them once again. So, can we really count these trees towards the goal of reforestation if they will inevitably be cultivated? Moreover, these trees are often cultivated early in their life cycle, limiting their capacity to store carbon the way a mature forest would. Occasionally, the monoculture chosen is so inadequate to the environment, that the trees simply never grow. According to a 2017 study, 9 out of 23 reforestation projects in Sri Lanka saw not a single tree grow, and only 3 of those 23 studies saw more than half the trees planted grow to maturity. All in all, less than 20% of the 2500 acres planted saw significant growth. In an even worse example, South Africa once planted a specimen of Australian acacia to prevent dune erosion and quickly saw this specie propagate out of control, drying out waterways and threatening the country’s biodiversity. The Country is now spending millions of dollars in an attempt to get rid of the invasive specie.
Single specie Palm oil forest in Indonesia
Many have been critiquing industries endeavoring in reforestation for inadequate practices and desultory results. But these are a direct result of commercial incentives being linked to reforestation. It’s no secret that companies always look out for the bottom line, and for tree planting to be profitable, it must be done for the lowest possible cost. The economic benefits that arise from the betterment of the environment are too marginal to act as a strong enough incentive. In order for these endeavors to truly be successful, we must refocus the criteria of success. The benefits of reforestation are felt and measured in the long term, therefore the planting of a tree should be seen as the beginning of the process and not the successful end.
Although all this may seem discouraging, don’t despair. It is critically important to continue planting trees to help combat climate change and limit rising global temperatures to under 1.5 degrees Celsius. We must however encourage reforestation that’s done with the wellbeing of the planet rather than commercial enrichment at the forefront. That is to say we should be planting trees with the goal of seeing them thrive and not planting trees for the simple goal of planting as many of them as possible. We can assume that even the worldwide initiative the Trillion Tree Campaign will miss the mark due to the potential for association with commercial interests. Furthermore, it’s possible that companies may be emboldened to pursue lumbering activities because, elsewhere, they’ve planted saplings.
First, protect existing forests
The consensus amongst experts is clear: the best way to combat climate change is not to plant new trees, but to protect old growth forests and prevent deforestation. Of course, planting and preventing deforestation are important complimentary actions, but, when it comes down to it, it’s more effective to prevent forest loss than to plant a new one.
Besides, the more we experience deforestation, the more forest fires we will see, and young forests —because of the lack of biodiversity— are always most vulnerable to forest fires. It could be argued that, in certain places, where forest fires run rampant for much of the year, reforestation efforts are rendered essentially useless.
Every second, and acre of rainforest is lost due to deforestation
This is the main reason why Solios has decided to become implicated in the protection of our forests rather than in reforestation. Knowing that our mission is to help protect our climate and biodiversity, we’ve done our research to ensure that our efforts are optimized for the most positive impact.
How to protect forests from deforestation
You’ve probably read that for every Solios sold we protect an acre of tropical forest. But how, concretely, do we go about it?
There are two ways of protecting an acre of tropical forest, and both must be carried out conjointly. First, we must identify tropical forests and the species within them that are most at risk and purchase those lands before they fall into the hands of multinational companies. Unfortunately, buying up lands isn’t enough to protect them against giant mining, logging, and agricultural conglomerates, and that’s not to mention poachers. Indeed, much of this detrimental and illegal commercial activity happens on protected land. So buying the land isn’t enough, you also have to ensure its constant surveillance. That entails working with local communities who care the most about these lands. The joint effort is of utmost importance because neither party has the power to ensure the safety of the forests on their own, but together it works!
Rangers in the Virunga Park. Every year, rangers are killed by the poachers.
Since its creation in 1988, the Rainforest Trust Foundation, with whom we are partnered, has acquired and protected 38 million acres of forest, 99% of which are still intact to this day.
How to capture carbon
As opposed to reforestation, which is considered a way of capturing carbon, forest protection is rather an act of preventing carbon release. According to the Trillion Tree Campaign, there used to be 6 trillion acres of forest on earth and we are now down to just 3 trillion acres. That means that the carbon capture potential is a lot lower than it once was, hence the importance of these endeavors. By far the most utilized form of carbon capture is reforestation, despite the growing recognition, for all the previously stated reasons, that it’s an imperfect system. In order for carbon capture to be considered successful, the sequestration of carbon in a tree must be considered permanent. So a newly planted forest that is cut or burned in a forest fire within a few years would not be considered a successful carbon capture initiative.
There are other, newer, and more expensive methods of capturing carbon, but they remain in the early stages of development. The most exciting to date is Direct Air Capture (DAC), which entails the capture of carbon directly from the atmosphere and its burial it in the ground. This works much in the same way that plants pull carbon from the air and store it in the ground through photosynthesis
Orca, the world’s largest air carbon removal in Iceland, will be able to draw down 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually. That’s the equivalent of 790 passenger vehicles in a year.
According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, DAC could eventually capture 14% of emissions, but currently this solution captures less than 1% of emissions.
Solios is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2023
Of course the best way to achieve carbon neutrality would be to reduce emissions, however it is impossible to reach complete neutrality through reduction alone. Whether it’s through the shipment of our product by air, or simply an employee taking their car to run an errand, our company produces emissions. We will be the first to opt for shipping via battery powered planes when it becomes available, but until then, our best alternative is to offset our emissions through carbon capture.
The first step in reaching our goal of carbon neutrality is to quantify all our emissions. This is no small task, but we will work towards it consistently throughout the year 2022. Following that, we will go about compensating for our emissions through carbon capture. Although we’ve enumerated the potential pitfalls of reforestation initiatives, we will continue to invest in this option until a better solution exists. We endeavor to continue doing our research to partner with the best foundations (such as the Rainforest Trust), people, and organizations who fight wholeheartedly to better our environment. Already, all shipping and employee generated emissions are offset by tree planting.
We are very close to our goal of carbon neutrality, but we await the results of our exhaustive study to confirm how much further we have to go. We believe we can achieve our goal by the end of 2023. Until then, and well after we’ve achieved carbon neutrality, Solios will continue to invest in forest protection, research carbon sequestration techniques, and find the best partners for our causes.
What can you do?
Please don’t stop your everyday efforts, and definitely don’t hesitate to plant trees. Not only do your actions have a direct impact, but they influence those around you to act as well, thereby multiplying positive acts. We can only achieve our environmental goals if we stand together.
While corporations who simply plant trees for commercial reasons are better than companies who do nothing at all, we encourage you to ask more of them. Look into their policies and question their values. No company is perfect but if they align with your values, they will know how to answer these questions and will be striving to improve.
Hope to cross paths with you on a tree planting expedition one day soon!
Written by Samuel Leroux | Co-founder of Solios Watches
Acre: a unit of land area used in agriculture equal to 4,840 square yards, 43,560 square feet, or 4,046.9 square meters.
Carbon Capture: the stable and long-term storage of carbon in oceans, soils, plants (forests in particular) and geological formations. Carbon sequestration refers to the elimination of carbon from the atmosphere via underground storage systems.
Carbon Neutrality: a state of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. This can be achieved by balancing emissions of carbon dioxide through its removal or by eliminating emissions.
Deforestation: the removal of a forest or stand of trees from land that is then converted to non-forest use.
Tropical Forest: forests in tropical and equatorial regions. Having been unaffected by more recent glaciations, these forests are the most biodiverse on the planet. They are more often threatened by exploitation and deforestation.
1.5 degrees Celsius: the target set by the Paris Accord, which stated that signatories would make efforts to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst effects of global warming.
Greenwashing: a form of marketing spin in which green PR and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization's products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly.
Photosynthesis: the process by which green plants and some other organisms use sunlight to synthesize energy from carbon dioxide and water.
Reforestation: the intentional restocking of existing forests and woodlands that have been depleted, usually through deforestation, but also after clearcutting.
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