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EnvironDesign Notebook: Want to Add Value? One Dollar, Please!

If you’re looking for a simplistic way to absorb tons of carbon dioxide while also reducing energy consumption, the answer may already be standing in your own back yard.

By Keri Luly, LEED AP


If you’re looking for a simplistic way to absorb tons of carbon dioxide while also reducing energy consumption, the answer may already be standing in your own back yard.

Want to Add Value? One Dollar, Please!

One dollar doesn’t go very far these days. But, with only a buck, you can take a lot of CO2 out of the air, stop the flow of hundreds of gallons of stormwater runoff, support jobs, and clean up some air pollution. Now that’s what I call adding value.

How can one dollar do all that? By spending it on planting a tree.

Before I tell you how to do that for only a dollar, let me tell you about all that value you’re going to be adding—to your property, your community, your nation, and your planet. (Even your stress levels will improve!)

The physical presence of trees adds value to your property, thus providing a high return on your investment. According to a collection of sources quoted on the Arbor Day Foundation’s Web site1:

  • A mature tree can be appraised for up to $10,000
  • Landscaping with trees can increase property values by up to 20%
  • Most realtors believe that mature trees have a strong or moderate impact on the salability of homes


  2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency draft, Reducing Heat Islands: Compendium of Strategies, Trees and Vegetation. (circa 2007)
Many factors influence these values—such as the size, type, location and condition of the trees—so it would be wise to confer with an arborist before planting.

I’m not sure how to put a dollar value on the joy my neighbor’s redbud tree brings me when it blooms in magenta after a long winter, but I know that the giant maple in my backyard blocks a lot of southern sun from my house on hot summer days—keeping my house cooler. Only 10 percent to 30 percent of the sun’s energy reaches the area below a tree, reducing surface temperatures and the amount of heat transferred to nearby buildings; and suburbs with mature trees are 4 to 6 degrees cooler than those without them2. Trees can also provide a natural barrier against noise and provide privacy. In wintry climates, evergreen trees can decrease heating costs by diverting northerly winds.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation’s Web site, trees that are properly placed can reduce air conditioning needs up to 30 percent and cut energy used for heating by 20 percent to 50 percent. The site also has a “Right Tree in the Right Place” quiz advising where, how, and what type of trees should be planted for achieving various goals.

And now for that dollar. Besides great information, the Arbor Day Foundation provides 10 trees for $10, so you can share with friends. They use your zip code to determine which trees are hardy in your area and you can chose from a variety. As a bonus, the $10 gives you a six-month membership ($15 gets you a full year), with discounts on a wide variety of trees and shrubs, should you want to continue your planting.

The value added by trees multiplies when considering a whole community or region. All the qualities and benefits realized by adding trees to an individual property can also be experienced on a community-wide basis, providing a more beautiful place to live. There’s something special, and certainly cooler, about traveling along a street crowned by shade trees—even shopping malls are made more attractive by trees. Parking your car in the shade during the summer can decrease the temperature inside the vehicle by 45 degrees2.

Planting trees can also protect a community’s water supplies and lower water treatment costs by decreasing soil erosion and runoff that pollute surface waters, and by allowing groundwater to recharge (refill) more reliably. According to the U.S. Forest Service, 100 mature trees can intercept 250,000 gallons of rainfall per year—a drastic reduction.

Large, mature trees are the most effective at their tasks. Chicago’s Morton Arboretum reports that large trees remove 60 percent to 70 percent more air pollution and sequester up to 1,000 times more CO2 than small trees.

Unfortunately, many cities fail to take advantage of these benefits or they plant trees in sidewalk holes that are too small for their root systems. Urban sprawl is typically a nemesis of trees. The city of Houston lost 10 million trees per year between 1992 and 2002. Yet, opportunities for planting a tree abound. According to the National Wildlife Federation, there are 60 to 200 million spaces along city streets in America where trees could be planted, absorbing 33 million tons of CO2 annually and saving $4 billion in energy costs. It has to be done properly, though.

The Arbor Day Foundation, supported by the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, has the Tree City USA program, which provides technical assistance and national recognition for communities

to plant trees. Your support and encouragement of your community’s participation will add huge value. The Foundation also offers a program for colleges and universities—Tree Campus USA—which helps to manage campus trees and engage students in the process so they can enjoy green spaces while the campus gains the energy savings that trees provide.

Although it is my personal goal to start a forest in my lifetime (at least one), I’m not sure when I’ll be able to buy the property needed. I dream of starting this forest on a piece of land that was once stripped of its trees in favor of asphalt parking spaces (maybe they should be called “stripped malls”). As a former ecology student, I want to imitate the way nature builds a forest.

Until then, our dollars (yours and mine) can build forests a different way, right now, on the millions of acres we already “own”—our national forests. We have had record-breaking wildfires in recent years, forcing the U.S. Forest Service to spend more of its budget fighting fires rather than replanting. Many forests regenerate after fire, as part of the natural process, but more than 1 million acres of national forests have been burned so severely that they need to be replanted.

Every dollar donated to the Arbor Day Foundation’s Replant our Forests program plants one tree. So far, they’ve planted nearly 18 million.


Keri Luly has elected to donate her monetary compensation for the articles she writes to an environmentally proactive organization of her choosing. This issue, she has selected the Arbor Day Foundation, whose mission is to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees. Founded in 1972, the centennial of the first Arbor Day observance in the 19th century, the Foundation has grown to become the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees, with more than 1 million members, supporters, and valued partners. The impact they make on our world is accomplished through conservation and education programs, such as Replanting our Forests, Tree City USA, Nature Explore, Rain Forest Rescue, and Arbor Day Farm. Visit to learn more.

One of the most important forests in the world, the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, has 23 primate species, 1,000 bird species, and 10 critical watersheds, but deforestation has ravaged all but about 7 percent of the original forest. The Nature Conservancy, which works locally and globally to preserve natural resources, has the Plant a Billion Trees3 program with the goal of replanting 2.5 million acres of the Atlantic Forest in seven years. As of April 11, 2010, they’ve planted 5,822,382 trees. One billion trees will absorb 10 million tons of CO2—the equivalent of taking 2 million cars off the road—while providing 20,000 jobs.

Every dollar buys a tree. We can add our value on their Web site3.

Two private companies, Casey Trees and Davey Tree Expert Co., deserve credit for developing a cool tool—the National Tree Benefit Calculator—based on the Forest Service’s i-Tree4 street tree assessment tool. After entering my zip code (Muscatine, Iowa), the type of tree I planned to plant (oak), and the size of the tree (5 inches in diameter), the tool provided me with an assessment of the overall benefits of the tree ($34 per year; at 10 inches it would be $88); the amount of CO2 it would sequester (150 pounds); the amount of stormwater runoff it would intercept (220 gallons); and some other interesting details. Another good idea is to visit The Center for Urban Forest Research, which I’ll do to plot my future forest—after I “plant” some dollars in our national forests.

Texas A&M researcher, Dr. Roger Ulrich, found that visual exposure to trees produced significant stress recovery in five minutes (indicated by blood pressure and muscle tension2). What more reason do you need? Plant your dollars and grow the benefits!

Keri Luly, LEED AP, is Allsteel’s stewardship coordinator and regular contributor to EnvironDesign Notebook. She can be reached at