Green Return: How Investing in Trees Benefits Atlanta
By Dave Simpson
What if Trees Atlanta gave a gift valued at $10 Billion to the people of Atlanta? By at least one measurement, we’ve done just that.
A single street tree can provide over $90,000 of direct benefits over the course of its lifetime (Burden, 2006), and Trees Atlanta has planted and distributed over 119,000 trees in metro Atlanta since our founding in 1985. This investment was made through the financial support and volunteer efforts of citizens and partners – people who understand and value the benefits of a robust and healthy tree canopy. We continue to invest in the quality of life for our families, neighbors, and all who call “The City in the Forest” home.
Trees and their network of leaves create a canopy of important benefits. Larger trees deliver more canopy benefits, called ecosystem services, such as: reducing air pollution, lowering temperatures, mitigating storm water runoff, producing food, and supporting wildlife. These benefits are of critical value to the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land on which we live, and should motivate us to invest in protecting and restoring our green canopy.
Atlanta’s trees make a real and tangible impact on our quality of life, and these benefits equal a real value. Atlanta has 3.65 million trees of a significant size (USDA Forest Service, 2016). If you consider that Atlanta’s millions of trees could each provide even a fraction of $90,000 in lifetime benefits, you start to get a picture of the tremendous economic impact of our city’s urban forest. Without continued investment in our trees we stand to lose a fortune.
It is important to note that 77% of the trees in the City of Atlanta grow on privately owned single-family residential properties (Giarrusso & Smith, 2014). It is incumbent upon land owners and private citizens to be active participants in the stewardship of our urban forest, and be vocal in calling for additional investments in our urban tree canopy.
Trees make Atlanta a healthier place to live.
Trees impact air quality, and consequently your health, in part by altering the ground level atmosphere through the removal of pollutants. Acting like nature’s HEPA filter, Atlanta’s trees remove 1,200 tons of air pollution per year (USDA Forest Service, 2016). According to American Forests, air quality can improve by as much as 15% in neighborhoods with higher canopy cover (web).
Investing in trees means improved health for the city’s residents, measured by fewer doctor and hospital visits, reduced lung and asthma-related impacts, fewer lost days of school and work, as well as diminished premature loss of life (EPA, web).
Trees make Atlanta a more economical place to live.
Atlanta’s urban forest helps you save money, providing an annual savings of $13.5 million in energy-related costs to the city (USDA Forest Service, 2016). The greatest savings is due to lowered cooling costs during summer.
Existing trees near your home or business – particularly those providing shade on west and south sides – should be conserved. Deciduous shade trees have the added benefit of reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
Trees also improve property value, increasing home prices by as much as 10-20% (American Forests, web). Similarly, retail areas with street trees can charge on average 9% higher prices than areas without trees, and customers who shop where there are more trees are 30% more satisfied (Wolf, 2007). Businesses on tree-lined streets show 12% higher income streams (Burden, 2006).
Trees make Atlanta a more comfortable place to live.
Trees in your backyard help to shade your home and make your family more comfortable on Atlanta’s hottest summer days, and street trees planted by Trees Atlanta along your neighborhood roads allow those benefits to be shared by everyone. Through shade and evaporative cooling, trees lower surface and air temperatures and can reduce the urban heat island effect of urban areas, which can be 2-10oF hotter than their surrounding countryside (Stone, 2012).
Trees in the City of Atlanta sequester about 45,200 tons of atmospheric carbon per year. Atlanta’s water oaks and loblolly pines – some of our most prevalent trees — are particularly effective at removing carbon from the air, taking an average of about 14,000 tons per year between them (USDA Forest Service, 2016).
To maximize this benefit, maintaining the health of our urban forest should be a priority. As a tree dies and decays, it releases much of the stored carbon back into the atmosphere.
Trees make Atlanta a better place to live.
We should all care about protecting and planting new trees in our city, but it’s easy to get complacent or not notice the loss of our urban forest from day to day. Many Atlantans were negatively impacted by the recent I-85 bridge collapse. It was hard not to notice the impacts of this sudden loss of infrastructure. Similarly, if we do not invest in the protection of our trees now, ensuring the long-term viability of our tree canopy, we would reach a point where the loss of our most vital green infrastructure – our urban forest – would be monumental. Not only would we be missing out on the valuable benefits of our trees, but the replacement cost would be staggering: $3.85 Billion (USDA Forest Service, 2016). To put this number in perspective, this is over 230 times the cost to repair the recent I-85 bridge collapse (Wickert, web). Like investments in major infrastructure projects add needed services to our community, an investment in trees also significantly impacts the quality of life for everyone, making Atlanta a better place to live. We’re already enjoying the benefits of our urban forest, but we all stand to benefit even more if we continue to invest in the protection of our trees.
Atlanta’s trees need your help. Sign the Atlanta Canopy Alliance Pledge, to raise your voice and learn more about how you can make a direct impact towards protecting our “City in the Forest.”
- Burden, D. (2006, Summer). 22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from http://www.walkable.org/download/22_benefits.pdf
- American Forests. (n.d.). Forest Facts. Retrieved May 18, 2017, from http://www.americanforests.org/explore-forests/forest-facts/
- Giarrusso, T., & Smith, S. (2014). Assessing Urban Tree Canopy in the City of Atlanta; A Baseline Canopy Study (pp. 1-133, Rep.). Atlanta, GA: Georgia Institute of Technology.
- Stone, J. B. (2012). The City and the Coming Climate Climate Change in the Places We Live. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2017, April 25). How BenMAP-CE Estimates the Health and Economic Effects of Air Pollution. Retrieved May 18, 2017, from https://www.epa.gov/benmap/how-benmap-ce-estimates-health-and-economic-effects-air-pollution
- USDA Forest Service; plus cooperators. (2016). i-Tree Ecosystem Analysis: Urban Forest Effects and Values; Atlanta.Retrieved March 27, 2017, from: http://www.itreetools.org/
- Wickert , D. (2017, May 12). I-85 bridge: Fast construction is safe, experts say. Retrieved May 18, 2017, from http://www.myajc.com/news/local/bridge-fast-construction-safe-experts-say/0JaNEjrgDZpCcN0mfi1oLL/
- Wolf, K. (2007, August). City Trees and Property Values. Arborist News. Retrieved May 18, 2017, from https://www.naturewithin.info/Policy/Hedonics_Citations.pdf