Planting Trees for the Future

In an ideal world, sustainable tourism adds value to nature, thus helping avert the kind of development that spews greenhouse gases into the air. Unfortunately, just stepping on an airplane to begin your trip can contribute to the problem.

Vietnamese children gather firewood, the only fuel in many countries. With help from Trees For the Future, they may soon be planting seedlings to replenish this valuable resource.© Trees for the Future

On average, for each mile flown en route to your destination, one pound of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere. But until non-fossil fuel options become a more realistic choice, the nonprofit Trees for the Future can help offset your negative effect.

Each tree planted through the organization's Trees for Travel program absorbs about 50 pounds of carbon dioxide for each of the first 30 years of the tree's active growth. “Since 1989, we have helped plant over 20 million trees in some of the most environmentally degraded parts of the world,” says Bill Ligon, executive director of Trees For The Future. The organization has helped rejuvenate denuded landscapes in more than 60 countries.

Working cooperatively through the local community, Trees for the Future initiates projects that help restore watersheds, reduce soil erosion, provide wildlife habitat, enhance wood used as fuel and building material, and cultivate livelihoods in agroforestry that reduce pressure on forested lands.

In Cameroon, for example, the organization has partnered with the community-based Lun Women's Cooperative in a tree planting program to address soil erosion, low soil fertility and shortages of firewood. “Less than five years later, the Lun Cooperative has become self-sufficient,” says Scott Bode, African program director. “Now the Cooperative, using money from tree seedling sales, is moving into other sustainable development activities.”

Because humid tropic and sub-tropic areas sustain tree growth at a rate three times that of temperate zones—thus tripling the carbon dioxide-sequestering effect—many projects are initiated in these regions. Since 1998 when Hurricane Mitch first devastated Honduras, Trees For The Future has distributed over four million trees there to help mitigate the effect of future catastrophic storms, and to mobilize communities around alternatives to more damaging land-use practices.

Independent travelers can purchase a $30 Tree Planting Certificate that pays for 200 trees in developing countries such as Honduras, Cameroon, Ethiopia and the Philippines. Some tour groups and agencies also make donations on the behalf of ecotravelers: Ecotour operator Tread Lightly Ltd. automatically contributes $1 (seven trees) for every long distance airline ticket it sells; agencies Escape Artists Travel in San Francisco and Skyward Travel in Takoma Park, Maryland make similar contributions.

While it won't solve global warming single-handedly, Trees For The Future may help delay the consequences, at least until “flying the friendly skies” truly becomes more eco-friendly.