Pay To Plant Trees: The Top 11 Tree Planting Charities In 2021

Planting trees has become a popular way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Learn if paying to plant trees is effective and what the best tree-planting charities and reforestation projects are.

SustainFi September 8, 2021

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Why pay to plant trees? 

Forests absorb carbon from the atmosphere through a process called photosynthesis, reducing the emissions that cause climate change. U.S. forests capture around 15% of CO2 emissions we generate by burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, or natural gas. A single tree can soak up as much as 0.62 tons of carbon from the air, equal to driving nearly 1,500 miles.

In addition, trees can remove up to 60% of street-level pollution and even decrease asthma in young children.

The journal Science argues that “the restoration of trees remains among the most effective strategies for climate change mitigation.” According to the Crowther Lab of the Swiss university ETH Zurich, planting 1.2 trillion trees can reduce CO2 in the atmosphere by 25%. Scientists estimate that before the start of the human civilization, the planet had about 6 billion trees, of which half remain today.

Based on this research, the World Economic Forum has launched its One Trillion Trees initiative, which the U.S. has endorsed. Another tree-planting project, the Bonn Challenge, wants to restore 350 million hectares of forest by 2030.

The cons of paying to plant trees

Tree planting organizations are not without critics, however. The critics cite several problems:

Planting trees is a distraction and we should focus on reducing emissions

Many scientists argue that the priority should be reducing emissions from burning fossil fuels. Planting trees can mask the problem without solving it. And what we really need are decarbonization and investments in clean energy and technologies.

Trees take a long time to grow

The problem of climate change is urgent, but young trees need a long time to grow. A young tree doesn’t absorb as much carbon as a mature tree and can take decades to reach its potential.

Many new trees don’t survive

Many newly planted trees don’t survive. There are several examples of trees planted on the land the local population needs for agriculture. The people are incentivized to cut down the trees as soon as they don’t get paid for them. Without support from the local population, trees can’t survive.

Even in Copenhagen, a major urban center, only 50% of newly planted trees survived, according to a report by Bloomberg CityLab.

With climate change, wildfires are becoming more frequent, which could also destroy forests.

Planting a single (or wrong) type of tree can create biodiversity loss

Planting just one type of tree results in biodiversity loss and makes trees prone to epidemics. Several tree-planting programs have been criticized for doing just that. Planting just one species, especially if it’s not native to the area, can hurt the wildlife and other plants and even cause wildfires.

Should you pay to plant trees?

Planting trees will not solve climate change. In fact, many tree-planting charities agree that planting trees is not enough and should not substitute for reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

However, tree-planting is still worthwhile if done right.

Trees not only absorb carbon but also create pleasant city environments and improve air quality. But it is also essential to protect existing, mature trees (that absorb more carbon). And new trees must be right for the environment where they are planted and protected as they grow.

Top 11 charities that plant trees

There are hundreds of charities and organizations that can plant trees for you. We have tried to pick the most prominent ones.

In addition, some climate-focused fintechs like Aspiration let you do cool things like “plant your change.” By rounding up the change on your purchases to the nearest dollar, they use the money to plant trees in partnership with Eden Reforestation Projects and the Arbor Day Foundation.

🔔 Learn more about green banking with Aspiration.

Now, here is the list of 11 tree-planting charities you can donate to:

1. The Nature Conservancy: Plant a Billion Trees

Founded in 1951, the Nature Conservancy is one of the best-known environmental charities. It has more than one million members and a staff of over 400 scientists. To date, the Plant a Billion Trees campaign has planted over 84 million trees.

The Nature Conservancy is rated 3 out of 4 by the Charity Navigator.

2. The National Forest Foundation

The National Forest Foundation is a charity that plants one tree for each $1 you donate. Trees are planted in U.S. national forests. Although you can’t choose a forest to plant your trees, priority zones include the Pacific Coast states (where wildfire recovery efforts are taking place), the Southern and Northern Rockies, the Southeast and Appalachia, and the Western Great Lakes. Your donations pay for seedlings that are planted by the USDA Forest Service. 85% of every donation goes directly to plant trees.

The Foundation is rated 4 out of 4 by the Charity Navigator.

3. The International Tree Foundation

Founded in 1922, the U.K.-based International Tree Foundation plants trees in Africa. The charity was launched in Kenya by Richard St. Barbe and Josiah Njonjo. Their first forest conservation group, Watu Wa Miti (People of the Trees), was the origin of their present work across Kenya. The Foundation planted over 805,000 trees in 2020 alone. You can also buy T-shirts and tote bags from the Foundation: naturally, proceeds go to plant trees.

4. The Green Belt Movement (GBM)

The Green Belt Movement is a long-standing Kenyan charity that plants trees and empowers women and girls. GBM was founded by the Nobel Prize-winning Professor Wangari Maathai in 1977. Since then, GBM has planted over 55 million trees in Kenya. In addition to donating, for $10, you can give the gift of planting a tree in Kenya to a loved one.

5. Trees for the Future

Trees for the Future is a Maryland-based nonprofit that works with communities around the world to plant trees. The founders, Dave and Grace Deppner, came up with the idea for Trees for the Future when they volunteered in the Philippines and saw the impact of illegal logging firsthand. Since 1989, the charity has planted over 191 million trees.

Trees for the Future is rated 4 out of 4 by the Charity Navigator.

6. Eden Reforestation Projects

Eden Reforestation hires local people to plant trees in Nepal, Madagascar, Haiti, Indonesia, Mozambique, Kenya, Honduras, and Nicaragua. To make sure the trees survive, Eden partners with local villages and only plants native species. They cite a stellar seedling survival rate of over 80%. Conceived in Ethiopia in 2005, Eden has since planted over 650 million trees, adding 20 million each month.

Eden Reforestation Projects is rated 3 out of 4 by the Charity Navigator.

7. Plant with Purpose

Started in 1984, San Diego-based Plant with Purpose works with farmers to plant trees in Burundi, the Dominican Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Mexico, Tanzania, and Thailand. To date, this Christian nonprofit has planted over 28 million trees.

Plant with Purpose is rated 4 out of 4 by the Charity Navigator.

8. American Forests

Founded in 1875, American Forests is the oldest conservation organization in the U.S. It restores forests in California, Lower Rio Grande Valley, and the Northern Rockies. For $25, you can become a member and get a magazine subscription. $200 provides an urban tree to a neighborhood in need.

The nonprofit is rated 3 out of 4 by the Charity Navigator.

9. Arbor Day Foundation

Founded in 1972, the Arbor Day Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to planting trees. To date, it has planted more than 350 million trees. If you become a member, the Foundation offers to plant ten free trees on your behalf.

The Arbor Day Foundation is rated 3 out of 4 by the Charity Navigator.

10. One Tree Planted

Started in 2014, One Tree Planted is a nonprofit that plants trees in 43 regions worldwide, including the Amazon rainforest. You pay only $1 per tree. The Vermont-based charity was created by Matt Hill, a professor and entrepreneur. Launched with a project of just 20,000 trees in 2014, by the end of 2020, the charity planted over 10 million trees.

11. Plant for the Planet

Plant for the Planet has an incredible backstory. It was started by a nine-year-old German, Felix Finkbeiner, who got interested in climate change while working on a school project. He later pleaded his cause in front of the UN General Assembly (watch the YouTube video here.) The charity lets you donate to plant trees worldwide, though they focus heavily on tropical regions. Per tree prices vary from $1.18 in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to $18.91 in Spain. They also sell Fairtrade chocolate in Germany, the Change Chocolate. Proceeds are used to plant trees.

While donating to plant trees is worthwhile, it is not the solution to the climate crisis while we are continuing to burn fossil fuels. Having said that, the tree-planting causes should make you feel good and deserve your support

🔔 Did you know that you can buy carbon offsets? Learn more.

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