Time’s up on tree washing: We need to plant with purpose

B Corp Ecotone’s chief executive chief executive Emma Vass outlines the need for businesses moving beyond just tree planting as a means to “talk the talk” on sustainability, with biodiversity requiring a much more comprehensive plan.

Time’s up on tree washing: We need to plant with purpose

Credit: Sumatran Orangutan Society

Biodiversity loss and climate breakdown are interconnected crises threatening life as we know it. It’s vital that we all do more to protect our planet and address the threats facing its species and ecosystems. This means putting the natural environment and all its inhabitants at the forefront of our minds.

But at times it is difficult to see the wood from the trees in some respects – specifically with tree planting. It’s widely assumed that the more trees we plant, the more CO2 is absorbed, but it’s more complicated than that, with many factors to consider. When it comes to tree planting, we should be thinking more about quality, not just quantity.

Rainforests for all

One of the ways in which we can help fight climate change and enhance biodiversity is by protecting our rainforests. According to WWF, up to 15 billion trees are cut down across the world every single year. This puts not only the climate, but the wildlife who inhabit these forests under threat due to widespread deforestation.

At Ecotone UK, we are committed to protect, grow and cherish biodiversity as part of our core mission; Food for Biodiversity. We know that deforestation is one of the biggest contributors to biodiversity loss, which is why, under the Whole Earth brand, we’ve been working with the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS) to support the long-term protection of one of the most important rainforests in the world.

Over the past two decades, SOS has been working on conservation projects to maintain the future of the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra. It’s the only place left across the entire globe where tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans all live together in the same forests.

SOS’s mission is to secure a resilient future for the Sumatran orangutans, the incredible rainforests they live in, and the people who share the ecosystem too.

Because of this, Whole Earth has been helping to support the vital work of SOS for the last four years. Since then, we’ve planted 20,000 trees together. In 2022, we’re aiming to plant an additional 50,000 trees by donating up to an estimated 25% of the profits from Whole Earth’s Golden Rainforest Edition jar.

What is tree washing?

Tree planting has become a common goal among businesses, and one that’s been praised on a wide scale. But, it’s important to consider the true value this is bringing to the planet – is it helping to support biodiversity or is it just a way for a business to talk the talk and not walk the walk?

According to SOS, it’s about planting the right trees in the right places.

“For example, are they planting just one type of tree (a monoculture) or are they planting a variety of species to encourage biodiversity and more closely match the original forest species? Do they monitor the trees once they’re planted, and do they have a plan to tackle things like damage to the trees from disease or animals?,” says SOS director, Helen Buckland.

All too often, the local people living next to rewilding sites are left out of the conversation. Whole Earth and SOS’s projects work with local partner organisations to actively involve communities on the ground.

This is to ensure that all planted trees become part of the flourishing ecosystem, which supports the animals and people living there, as well as the wider climate.

Projects that get results

While lots of companies will share the amount of trees planted, what they often leave out is the effect it has on the planet.

With Whole Earth and SOS’s partnership, teams on the ground in Sumatra are on hand to witness the real-life results of carefully planned tree planting efforts.

For example, Sumatran orangutans regularly return to sites where there have been new trees planted. Helen Buckland at SOS says people are often surprised to hear how quickly this can happen: “At more than one site we support, orangutans have been spotted eating fruit and making nests in the trees within three years of our partners starting to work there.

“Our partners use camera traps at rewilding sites to spot more elusive creatures, too – we have been delighted to see Sumatran tigers in the area thanks to pictures taken by the camera traps at night.”

It’s through careful, considered tree planting alongside local partners and communities that we can make Sumatra’s forests whole again, boost biodiversity and contribute to a better world.

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