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Features - Trees

Growers must convey the value of trees.

June 23, 2011

It’s time for trees to be the powerhouse of the industry. Sales have been minimal while nursery burn and compost piles have been excessive. It’s been a frightening and maddening situation.

As the downturn slowly rights itself, albeit painfully slowly, tree growers need to push the message of the value of trees to anyone with a pulse. Trees are a necessity, not a luxury.

Study after study points to the millions of dollars trees provide in benefits to cities.
  • The New York City Parks Department determined the nearly 600,000 street trees in its five boroughs provide an annual benefit of $122 million—more than five times the cost of maintaining them.
  • Studies by Geoffrey Donovan, an economist and research forester at the Pacific Northwest Research Station, and David Butry, an economist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, found that Portland’s street trees have a capital value of $1.1 billion, which translates to $45 million in benefits annually.
  • The Ohio State University Extension’s Why Trees Matter Signature Program discovered Toledo’s street trees provide $15.1 million in annual benefits, including energy benefits (electricity and natural gas savings) and stormwater remediation.
  • In Minneapolis, street trees resulted in savings of $6.8 million in energy costs and $9.1 million in stormwater treatment. The trees also increased property values by $7.1 million.
  • Shade trees in Washington, D.C. provide more than $10 million in annual carbon, air quality, stormwater, energy and property value benefits.

Although these amounts are impressive, let’s take it down to the homeowner level. Tell the buyer how trees put money back in their accounts.

Homes shaded by trees have 10-30 percent savings in air conditioning costs compared to homes without shade. And homes with trees sell for an average of 10-20 percent more.

The city of Portland wants to plant 33,000 yard trees and 50,000 street trees by July 2013 as part of its five-year, $50 million Grey to Green initiative. The city’s Treebate program offers a utility-bill credit to homeowners who plant trees in their yards. And it’s still funded for this year. Applications will be available in September.

These are quantitative dollar amounts that consumers can grasp.

Bailey Nurseries in St. Paul, Minn., created a tag and point-of-purchase program called Trees are Cool. The program informs customers that a healthy tree cools the air equivalent to 10 room-sized air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.

Urban trees also provide natural resource management jobs including tree inventory, inspection and care, landscape maintenance, and environmental impact field work and planning.

Street trees benefit business. Studies show that consumers are willing to spend 12 percent more in stores with trees in front of them than without.

Other benefits
Spring Grove Nursery in Mazon, Ill., touts the benefits of its trees to current and future customers. Owners Becky and Jamie Thomas spend a lot of time at schools teaching children how trees clean air pollution, provide oxygen and offer a home for wildlife. The Thomases also teach the school-agers how to plant and care for trees in the landscape.
“Being involved in the community and making sure our trees are part of the community is important to our business,” Becky said in between sessions at the ANLA Management Clinic this year.

Treed neighborhoods reduce crime compared to those without trees. Research also shows that trees reduce stress in the homes, schools and even behind the wheel.

The message must be simple. Use a couple of talking points that speak to the customer’s wallet and their conscience. There’s no need to use scientific terms such as amelioration or transpiration.

Possible partnerships
The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) was created to promote sustainable land development and management practices that can apply to sites with and without buildings including. And trees are an integral part of these projects, such as local, state and national parks; conservation easements and buffer zones; transportation rights-of-way; industrial, retail and office parks; military complexes; airports; and public and private campuses.

SITES will provide tools for those who influence land development and management practices and can address increasingly urgent global concerns such as climate change, loss of biodiversity and resource depletion. They can be used by those who design, construct, operate and maintain landscapes, including but not limited to planners, landscape architects, engineers, developers, builders, maintenance crews, horticulturists, governments, land stewards and organizations offering building standards.

This effort began as separate projects of the Sustainable Design and Development Professional Practice Network of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. In 2005, the two groups joined forces to hold a Sustainable Sites Summit in Austin, Texas.

In 2006, the United States Botanical Garden (USBG) joined as a major partner in the Initiative. A Steering Committee representing 11 stakeholder groups was selected to guide the Initiative.

There are more than 150 projects participating in the SITES two-year Pilot Program through June 2012. These projects represent a diverse cross-section of project types, sizes and geographic locations in various stages of development from design to construction and maintenance.

One of the SITES pilot projects is Casey Trees’ offices in Washington, D.C. The Casey Trees Brookland headquarters design uses trees to maximize canopy cover and manage stormwater. The site design showcases trees in various applications including infiltration planters for trees along 90 linear feet of sidewalk, two rain gardens with a diverse planting of trees and soil cells that create large soil volume for tree growth under the sidewalk. At maturity, the tree canopy will increase by 25 percent. The goal of the project is to demonstrate what is possible when public and non-profit institutions work together.

For more: Spring Grove Nursery, Bailey Nurseries, Sustainable Sites Initiative,