Read time: 12 minutes
Part 1 of 3, for Part 2 click here
*Key terms are italicized and explained at the bottom of the blog*
Are you familiar with the Government of Canada’s 2 Billion Trees Commitment (2BT)? It is a 10 year tree planting initiative funded through Natural Resources Canada. Similar to this government program, many companies, large and small, are working to do their share at restoring lost forest and protecting our planet.
Black Sheep is no exception.
Since our inception, sustainability has been at the centre of our business ethos. From material choices and product design, to the product’s end-of-life plan, we place great importance on consuming mindfully and giving back where we can.
Last year we successfully launched our own tree planting program with WEARTH, a local Alberta company. We spoke with Brad Rabiey, co-founder of WEARTH, to get his expertise on everything tree planting: from the purpose and potential, to the drama and controversy—we cover it all!
So, let’s dive in to see the full picture of tree planting, because it’s so much more than picking up a shovel and throwing a seed in the ground.
Enjoy part one of our three part interview (because you know, the best works are trilogies).
What is tree planting and how does it help the environment?
Tree planting programs have seen a surge of interest in the past years as more and more companies are looking to contribute and do their part in environmental protection. Tentree, the Canadian clothing brand, is one that many people think of. Or maybe you’re familiar with the band Coldplay’s initiative to plant 10,000 trees in 2002 (which ultimately was a huge flop… more about that in the next blog). Regardless of the outcome—not discounting the importance of the outcome—the base idea is the same.
"I had gone to university and taken biological sciences and worked at a provincial level in politics and government and really saw where things were heading from an environmental standpoint [...]
Tree planting programs like Black Sheep’s are instrumental in habitat restoration in Canada."
- Brad Rabiey, WEARTH Co-Founder
Trees provide food for people and animals, maintain cool unpolluted water, and of course, the most widely known benefit, they ‘breathe in’ carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere which helps combat greenhouse gases (GHG), a huge player in our climate crisis.
The reality of deforestation in Canada
Though many people see deforestation to be a problem mainly in rainforests and equatorial regions, you’d be surprised to know that Canada (the land of vast, beautiful, natural landscapes and wildlife) is no exception to deforestation issues.
"We’ve lost lots of original forest in Canada over the years, whether that be from forestry, urban growth or even agriculture, though that’s still not talked about much. The numbers we’ve lost over the years, and continue to lose, have a significant impact on all kinds of animal species as well as water retention and nutrient flow within our ecosystems."
This truly is a global crisis, not just in that it affects everyone in the world, but that in the bigger picture, we’re all partly responsible for contributing to it. So, doesn’t that mean we should all work together to solve it? More about how you can contribute in the third blog!
How many trees do we need to plant?
From a company perspective, WEARTH is developing plans to plant five million trees annually for 10 consecutive years. Just having passed a million trees recently, there’s still LOTS of work to be done and room for growth. But as the message and the urgency reaches more and more people, they’re certain that 50 million trees will be feasible and necessary. From a global perspective, finding an exact number is a little more difficult.
"Trees – although they are the core business for us– are only part of the solution. And if anyone tells you it’s the perfect solution, you should be cautious," Brad warns.
"You have to consider the whole picture, whether it’s the social aspect of food security, destruction of habitat from other explorations, preventing forest fires, minimizing energy use or curbing other forms of consumption that over utilize natural resources as the population grows. There are components that have to be addressed for the tree planting to be meaningful. With that, while tree planting is part of the solution, it isn’t the complete solution."
What are the limitations of tree planting?
There’s lots of push for more trees to be planted and many of these projects are working in the millions, but is there such a thing as too many trees?
A study done by the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology, ETH Zurich, estimates that there are 900 million hectares of land (an area the size of the US) in the world to be reforested. That’s enough to plant one trillion trees. Also in this study, Canada ranked third in terms of land available to be converted to forest. Brad believes that the land component is a little more complicated than it initially seems and ETC Zurich echoes the same thought. Much of the 900 million hectares of land are privately owned properties, many being used for farming and agriculture. This is where WEARTH’s approach is different from other tree planting initiatives (more about this in the second blog).
"I have the front row seat, being a grain farmer on a multigenerational farm. Even looking at the land that my grandfather cleared, there’s different opinions between myself and my Dad of whether that land should be farmed or left/returned as forest. It’s not as simple as reversing all the farmland into forest because at the end of the day, we still have to eat. There’s also the conversation of whether you harvest these trees when they mature, of course with a sustainable selective harvest mentality.
For us right now, there’s enough need and enough land for reforestation to be beneficial. We’ve gone a step further by making sure that all of our projects are on 100% conserved land so the trees cannot be cleared. That’s what we feel is correct, at least for the projects to date, but that might not always be the case because land limitations do exist. There becomes a point where these decisions become more and more difficult to make."
So we’ve gone through the basics of tree planting practices and it’s clear that there’s much need for it, but as you can see, it’s not as simple as starting a backyard garden (not discounting the hard work that goes into a backyard garden either!). Of course, as more people become attuned to climate change and push companies to do their part, with the good benefits also comes new issues.
Stay tuned for the next blog where we discuss the drama and the controversy of some of these projects, as well as hear more of WEARTH and Brad’s intriguing stories.
For the final blog, learn how you can take part in these initiatives and what we can achieve with our collective efforts.
Make sure you follow along, these blogs will be your one-stop shop for all things tree planting!
Brad Rabiey, Co-founder, WEARTH
Half farmer. Half environmentalist. Half entrepreneur. Which is why he never sleeps!
Graduating from the University of Alberta majoring in biological sciences, Brad worked in the provincial government, as a renewable energy consultant, and more before returning back to the family farm.
Brad's focus is on the triple bottom line of people, plant, and profit. Co-founding WEARTH (originally only The Carbon Farmer) in 2007 with his wife, they welcomed investment from Arlene Dickinson and Bruce Croxon via CBC's Dragons' Den. WEARTH is focused on planting trees on select parcels of previously farmed land. These new forests are helping address the major environmental issues today's world faces such as habitat loss and climate change. He's also transitioned the best agricultural soils on their third generation family farm (in the places other than the spots where they planted trees) to organic grain production, with a focus on gluten-free crops.