Earth Day Network

Tree$ are making money in your city’s backyard

Reviving the urban canopy with new roots

Trees are some of the best defenses against climate change. Whether a tree is in the deep jungel or on top of the Empire State Building, a tree is a tree. In cities, trees can help reduce the heat island effect and improve stormwater management. But what good are they really?

It’s hard not to measure benefits without thinking in terms we typically think do: money. Putting a dollar value on an urban forest isn’t completely unheard of. In the 1990’s, the Chicago Urban Forest Climate Project did it while measuring how trees affect air pollution, water, energy use and carbon cycling.

They calculated each tree provided $402 worth of benefits over the course of a lifetime. Since then, a tool called i-Tree has been developed to calculate the benefits urban forests provide to the climate and environment.

How did this help California?

Sacramento Tree Foundation, or SacTree, has planted and cared for over 500,000 trees throughout Sacramento in the past 25 years. They are funded in part by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) to help reduce energy consumption in the city.

SacTree plants trees in lots of new homes and can report on the dollar savings in energy costs based on the distance a tree is from the home. Trees can provide much needed shade in the summer months that can reduce the need for intense AC usage.

Another California study earlier this summer used a dataset of 900,000 trees that line California’s public streets. US Forest Service and UC Davis worked together to calculate that the trees contribute about $1 billion annually—nearly $111 per tree for each of the state’s 9.1 million street trees. Trees provide services such as energy savings, carbon storage, air pollution update, and rainfall interception. They also have cosmetic value: adding privacy and views to property.

The value of trees in our cities in clear, dollar value or not.