Ever since McConks started investigating rewilding and tree planting back in early 2019, we’ve been concerned about the long term sustainability of some tree planting schemes.
We know from our work with organisations like the Woodland Trust that planting a seed can cost as little as £0.10, but that growing a seed into a viable sapling, planting that sapling, protecting that sapling, and replacing it if it withers costs significantly more. And yet there were many commercial tree planting and offsetting organisations that were willing to let us sell our customers a ‘you’ve planted a tree certificate’ for less than £1. And that didn’t seem right to us.
In our research we’ve come across a lot of potential tree planting scams, so we’ve taken significant steps to find a UK based rewilding charity that is fully transparent about its motives and methods. And that’s why we’ve partnered with Scottish rewilding charity @treesforlife. More about that later, but firstly, what are these scams…
Tree planting and offsetting scams
Less than $1.00 to plant a tree – money for nothing scam
At its most basic, this is simply charging $0.10 to plop a seed into a hole and kick some dirt over the top. We can all agree that this is not actually planting a tree, but planting a chance that a tree might grow. And without the right protection, nurturing, watering, and after planting care, the chance that your £0.10 tree grows is pretty close to zero. So the certificate that you get telling you what tree was planted where, how much carbon it consumes in its life, and how it will contribute to the tropical ecology, is based on a false assumption that every seed grows into a tree. In fact, the carbon embedded in energy taken to autogenerate those certificates and email them could even be greater than that one tree will ever consume! Especially if lots of people print their certificates. It costs at least £5 to grow a viable whip of an ecologically appropriate variety, plant it in the right place, protect it, replace it if it dies, and then reap the carbon and rewilding benefits claimed. So make sure you’re paying enough to actually grow a tree – not just plant a seed.
Plant them, log them scam
What happens once the tree has matured? In many cases trees are deliberately planted in locations that are ‘farmed’ for logging. So the tree that you’ve paid to be planted will be cut down in 15 year’s time for timber. There is one school of thought that says that if this prevents virgin forest being cut down, it’s a good thing. However, unless this is declared up front, we think this says something about the ethics and business principles of those tree planting companies, and they’re not the sort of businesses we want to partner with!
There are many other ways that the commercial plant-a-tree and offsetting companies employ to make profit from your desire to do the right thing. One of the best exposes we’ve found is here. But if you really want to find out as much did, search for ‘plant-a-tree’ scams on google, and ask the Woodland Trust and treesforlife for their opinions. The amount of unethical practice out there is beyond disappointing!
So after all of our research, we’ve nailed our flag to the @treesforlife post. We’ve spoken to lots of different charities, and it was a really hard choice. But ultimately, TreesForLife made it easy for us to create a McConks rewilding grove in the highlands of Scotland. We will be able to document the progress of that grove as we add more trees, and see it develop over time.
As an aside, there is very strong scientific evidence that mature trees in temperate zones do not capture as much carbon as those planted in tropical and subtropical regions. And this was a real concern of ours when choosing a Scottish location. But we satisfied ourselves, that this is offset against the fact that trees planted in our corporate grove are part of a wider rewilding project, and will never be logged, and will provide significant additional ecological benefits, all of which have a knock-on impact on that all-important sustainability and whole life carbon cost that matters so much when you really understand and care about the environment.
What happens next
We are going to be planting a tree in our corporate grove for every single SUP board package purchase. Each whip costs us £10 to plant and maintain. And we’re going to be adding 50% of this cost on to every SUP package purchase, so our prices will go up by £5 across the board.
But, Hey! We understand that not everyone agrees with paying £5 to plant a tree. So we will refund you the £5 charge if you email firstname.lastname@example.org with the email subject being ‘tree refund’