Responsible reforestation: how to grow trees to solve climate change
Your tree questions answered
Why plant trees?
At Ecologi, we believe trees are a little bit magic.
Forest restoration and reforestation are well-known climate solutions because of trees’ ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and store it in their biomass.
This carbon absorption ability is entirely natural, and far exceeds the efficiency of any manmade carbon removal tech that currently exists.
As well as carbon sequestration though, planting trees is a wonderful thing to do for a number of other reasons:
- Trees provide habitat, shade, shelter, and food for local wildlife. Planting trees therefore supports biodiversity and helps to prevent species loss.
- Trees can provide products that local community members can sell – like fruits and nuts – without harming the trees themselves.
- Degraded soil increases the risk of natural hazards like landslides, and the roots of trees help to stabilise the soil and minimise this risk for local communities.
- Trees can help to purify air and water sources, providing better health outcomes for local communities.
- Coastal tree species like mangroves provide excellent natural barriers which protect the shoreline from storms.
- Trees make us feel better: research suggests they have a positive impact on our mental health.
Why are lots of Ecologi's trees mangroves?
Research has shown that mangroves absorb carbon at a very high rate compared to other types of terrestrial ecosystems.
Their extensive root networks are capable of storing a large amount of carbon underground, and their locations on coastal wetlands means that this carbon is less likely to be affected by natural hazard risks like wildfires.
Mangroves also form a key part of coastal ecosystems, and are “renowned for an array of ecosystem services, including fisheries and fibre production, sediment regulation, and storm [and] tsunami protection”.
When we began planting trees, we wanted to start with something small but effective – like mangrove species, which is why many millions of our trees planted to date are mangroves in Madagascar.
Over time, we have expanded the projects supported by our reforestation efforts and now as well as mangroves we support terrestrial tree planting all around the world.
How does Ecologi select its reforestation partners?
At Ecologi, our mission is to ensure that for every subscriber contribution that is entrusted to us goes towards having the greatest possible impact.
We carefully select all of our impact partners and projects, based on a number of important criteria. For example, with our reforestation partners, we scrutinise the organisation’s:
- Ecological credentials and knowledge (to ensure that partners are able to ensure the right trees are planted in the right places);
- Experience (to ensure that we work with established partners who have been working in reforestation for at least 3 years);
- Monitoring and reporting capabilities (to ensure that the trees our community is funding, are in fact being planted);
- Coordination with local communities (to ensure that trees planted are providing a genuine benefit to the local people, as determined by the local community themselves);
- Project site protection capabilities (to ensure the longevity of the site, maximise the chances of success, and minimise the project’s vulnerability to risk);
- Labour practices (to ensure that work carried out on reforestation projects is carried out by employees who are supported, treated well, and paid fairly);
- Reputation (to ensure that we are aware of any existing complaints or concerns across the industry);
In addition, with each specific project we support through our platform, we explore the project itself in detail: its merits, the local problem it is trying to solve, the proposed solution and how the project activity achieves that solution, and any co-benefits towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals that it has.
Our wider impact strategy is guided by the Ecologi Climate Committee, a panel of experts from across the climate space, to ensure that all of our processes, procedures and due diligence are right at the top of their game.
You can read more about our Climate Committee on our Medium series, Building Ecologi.
How do you protect the trees from forest fires, or being cut down?
Reforestation efforts are reliant on robust procedures to ensure the protection of the trees planted – after all, there wouldn’t be much benefit in the carbon absorption from the trees, if they were burnt or cut down straight away.
It’s important to note that no organisation can guarantee with 100% certainty that a forest is permanently impervious to all risks – but there are lots of steps we can take to minimise these risks with the forestry projects we support. From Ecologi’s side, this folds into our due diligence processes when we select reforestation partners to work with, and also the types of projects we support.
One of the great reasons for supporting mangroves is because they are a coastal species, meaning the risk of being destroyed by wildfires is minimised.
For some specific examples of measures to protect the projects, we sent this question to our largest reforestation partner, Eden Reforestation Projects (‘Eden’).
This is their reply:
- We work carefully with all levels of government to secure written agreements designating the restoration sites as protected in perpetuity.
- We hire local villagers to plant the trees. In this way, we alleviate extreme poverty within the impacted community. The villagers now have an economic incentive to ensure the wellbeing of the restoration project. They also have a sense of “ownership” over the trees and restored forest and they protect it with great care.
- A minimum of 10% of the trees to be planted are agroforestry species (fruit, fodder and construction species designed to provide food security and benefit legitimate human needs). Over time these trees become a source of sustainable income.
- We do all possible to supply the local villagers with alternative fuel sources (fuel-efficient dry wood stoves and solar parabolic stoves), which reduces and or eliminates their dependence on charcoal.
- We also hire forest guards as part of the labour force. Forest guards are part of the overall budget.
- Most significantly, we have seen the villagers fall in love with their forest. They also recognise and benefit from the restored forest through increase in fisheries, improved farming, cleaner water and the formation of micro enterprises.
You can read more Q&As from Eden’s team, over on the Eden Reforestation Projects website.
What's the survival rate of the trees?
Generally speaking, on our mass reforestation sites, our partners are able to achieve a survival rate of around 80-85%.
Each project is different, however, depending on a number of factors including the location, species, local conditions and contractual arrangements between us, our partners and other stakeholders.
For example, on our mangrove sites with Eden Reforestation Projects…
…the initial survival rate at our mangrove restoration projects exceeds 80%. However, between years three and five the young mangrove trees begin to produce their own propagules (baby mangrove trees) resulting in a proliferation of natural regeneration. Multiple studies demonstrate the initial survival rate combined with natural regeneration results in a luxuriant impact ranging between 150 and 500 percent.
You can read more Q&As from Eden’s team, over on the Eden Reforestation Projects website.
How much carbon does a tree sequester?
Whilst we know that trees are one of the best tools we have in removing carbon pollution from our atmosphere, the question of exactly how much carbon an individual tree can sequester is spectacularly complex, and often depends on a lot of factors, models and assumptions.
Ecologi does not encourage our community to attempt to calculate the amount of carbon sequestered as part of our reforestation work for the purposes of offsetting or balancing emissions. This is because of the immense complexity of producing reliable estimates, but also because if the reforestation projects become verified to a carbon standard in the future, then additional claims made about the carbon sequestered by the trees beyond those verified to the carbon standard would constitute double-counting. We don’t take the carbon sequestered by our trees into account when we measure and account for our own emissions, either; very occasionally we might use some loose calculations for illustrative purposes only.
The trees you are funding are of course doing great work sucking up carbon at their own pace, with mangrove trees which we support being especially capable – with some research suggesting that each hectare of mangroves can absorb approximately 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide over a 25-year lifetime.
Is my carbon footprint offset by newly-planted trees?
No. The trees you’re funding right now are years away from doing their thing.
Every Ecologi subscription is used for two purposes: to offset your carbon footprint through verified carbon offsets, and – separately – to plant trees.
The carbon offset projects you fund to offset your footprint rotate each month between top-quality projects that avoid greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere (such as renewable energy projects which displace existing fossil fuel energy). We only fund offset projects which meet the highest verification standards, such as Gold Standard or Verified Carbon Standard. In addition, we aim to fund offset projects which meet other important sustainability and development standards like CCBS and SDVista.
Until they are several years old, your baby trees are not mature enough to sequester carbon in large quantities – and those verification programmes which do exist often will not verify carbon removal from trees until they are around 10 years old. That’s why we do not count your trees as contributing towards offsetting your footprint – and only offset using verified carbon credits. Of course – your trees are still out there, quietly sucking up carbon all the same.
In the future, as the market for scaleable carbon removal credits from forestry projects becomes established, we may explore providing these on the platform as well – but these will be separate from our general reforestation work, which has all its own benefits (listed in the first FAQ above) without being required for carbon offsetting purposes.
Who is monitoring the health and growth of the trees?
A core part of our partnerships with our reforestation partners is that they are responsible not just for putting a tree in the ground, but ensuring that it has the best chance to survive and thrive once it’s there.
In the UK, for our local UK subscribers, our partners the Future Forest Company and Protect Earth provide photos and the What3Words location for all the trees funded by our subscribers. That means you can see for yourself the tree you’ve funded – where it is, and an image of it.
For our forestry partners for our larger sites, this kind of feature is unfeasible at such scale. Partners for these sites are required to provide comprehensive reports to us on a regular basis, detailing planting numbers and descriptive updates, as well as GPS-tagged images. We monitor these internally, and we share the best photos with you on our social channels when they come in. These partners are also routinely audited by third parties to verify the figures they give. COVID permitting, we are looking forward to visiting some of our sites soon, to undertake site audits and take photos and video for you to see.
As Ecologi grows, we are also aiming to incorporate sophisticated remote monitoring for all of our projects, such as utilising drones, satellite imagery and LiDAR to provide even more peace of mind to our subscribers about how well our project sites are doing – both in terms of the scale of reforestation and also in terms of the carbon storage potential of our trees.
Are the trees being planted varied and native species?
Yes. Monoculture forests and non-native species do not fall under the category of responsible reforestation, and Ecologi does not support them.
As an example, there around 60 different tree species being planted at our sites in Madagascar, including:
- Avicinia marina
- Rhizophora mucronata
- Ceriops tagal
- Bruguiera gymnoohiza
- Rhopalocarpus similis
How do we ensure the indigenous are protected?
Ecologi does not work with partners that do not have robust and inclusive processes to coordinate and consult local people before planting commences.
We carefully track the co-benefits of all of our projects to ensure that they are incorporating and supporting local communities in their work. This consultation can be related to land ownership and access, or through directly employing the local people, or training them to plant the trees themselves.
Two common methodologies implemented by our reforestation partners include Employ-to-Plant (where local people are employed by our partner organisation to plant trees) and Train-to-Plant (where local people are trained on site to plant and look after their own trees).
This also supports local people to participate and feel ownership over the project, and to establish reliable sources of income.
Are the workers being cared for and paid fairly?
It is our belief that – while you can put as many trees in the ground as you want – if you have done so at the expense of local community welfare, you have still done it wrong. Supporting and empowering the local people who work on, and live in proximity to, our projects is absolutely paramount to us.
The different planting methodologies employed by our partners help to provide reliable income to local communities in different ways (discussed above), with the overall aim of empowering them to support themselves.
Ecologi maintains a strict Code of Conduct for all of our impact partners. This encompasses lots of different areas of sustainable operations – including fair wages and decent working conditions. It also specifies the minimum ages that are permitted to work, and forbids the use of child labour, as defined by the International Labour Organisation.
Agreeing to adhere to the Code of Conduct is a pre-requisite to any impact relationship with Ecologi and we will terminate relationships with partners who we find to have breached it.
The Code of Conduct also sits alongside our other due diligence procedures when selecting partners (discussed above), which also cover the topic of benefits and conditions for all employees, volunteers, and contractors working on our sites.
During site visits (once they are possible again after COVID restrictions are lifted), our team will undertake prepared spot checks, to ensure these safeguards are being implemented on site.