Speaking from the helm of a company dedicated to eliminating the idea of waste, I have often referred to recycling as one way to align human consumption with nature’s activities. Our linear systems of production and consumption see the value of the world’s finite resources lost, mined from the ground for chopped down to eventually be thrown away. But in the regenerative, circular system of nature, there is no such thing as waste, and everything within it has its place.
One of the most recognizable (and magnificent) parts of nature is trees. Whether they are growing to be thousands of years old, making life-long friendships or confounding us with their resilience, trees provide to us invaluable material resources. Trees have long contributed to the stability and resiliency of a healthy world ecosystem. But as stories like The Lorax and the latest world reports reflect, trees are in danger, and drawing attention around their importance for the livelihood of the planet is critical to their survival.
A holiday to preserve something as essential as trees may seem redundant, but in an era where a global initiative like the March for Science is needed, nothing can be taken for granted. Last week’s Arbor Day originated as a festival in Spain to recognize the need to preserve and celebrate plants and trees in response to the environmental and infrastructural havoc that Napoleon was ravaging on Europe.
Here in the U.S., the first Arbor Day occurred in Nebraska, where it is now a civic holiday; today, different states celebrate in their own way. Providing the resources to encourage participation, Grand Rapids in Michigan gave away free trees to residents April 29 with a series of conditions in support of keeping said trees safe and healthy. Pittsburgh invited hikers to see and learn about their state forests on an inaugural guided trek, and Santa Clarita in California raised awareness with a festival in conjunction other local environmentally-minded events, including an upcycled art contest.
Year-round, the National Arbor Day Foundation, the largest 501(c)(3) nonprofit membership organization dedicated to tree planting, provides infrastructure and resources to corporate partners, cities, college campuses and other organizations seeking to make their communities more sustainable by improving the health of their tree populations. Using trees as a healing prescription for regions hit by natural disasters, the foundation also provides best practices for utility arborculture, assets for individuals who want to provide aid for forests and trees in threatened areas, and ways to help children connect with nature.
Nonprofits and NGOs are in an important position, but companies and brands have significant opportunity to make arbor-related stewardship easy and accessible. For example, holistic pet food brand Earthborn Holistic®’s UPCs for Trees Program allows consumers to send in their UPC barcodes to have trees planted in areas around the world that have been affected by deforestation; through the program, over 400,000 trees have been planted so far. Additionally, the brand’s Earthborn ReBorn™ in-store recycling program features collection bins that have a UPCs for Trees collection envelope on the side. Consumers can drop off, instead of send by mail, their UPCs for Trees along with their bags to recycle, saving time, money and more trees by reducing the use of envelopes.
The development of more sustainable human systems requires that we turn to nature as a role model for more intuitive ways of doing things, and trees are the embodiment of stability and resilience. This Arbor Day, individuals and groups around the world observed by planting trees and organizing events for long-lasting impact. But without waiting for stewardship and leadership from governments and public entities, galvanizing individuals and communities on the ground is what will provide the capability to give back to trees even a bit of what they have given us: life.