The value of trees

Posted on June 20, 2012


“It pays to plant trees!”

That phrase — and the bold, green tag it was printed on — caught my eye during a walk through downtown Downers Grove, Illinois. Taking a closer look, I learned it was part of a clever campaign by The Morton Arboretum to share the economic value of trees.

The Morton Arboretum tagged 3,000 trees in Chicagoland to help show their economic value.

The Morton Arboretum tagged 3,000 trees in Chicagoland to help show their economic value.

A tree-lined street is not only inviting, it also saves money. For every $1 you invest annually in trees, you get about $2.70 back in benefits, such as:

  • Cleaner air. Trees produce oxygen and remove pollution.
  • Cooler houses. Shade helps reduce the energy costs of air conditioning.
  • Less stormwater runoff. Trees catch rain and soak it up, reducing the amount of water our sewers have to handle.
  • Higher property values. Experts estimate that each large front-yard tree increases a home’s sale price by 1%

Behind the scenes

In 2011 the tree tagging program sprouted from the arboretum’s public awareness campagin around Arbor Day.  “We want to convey that trees in our communities have an economic value,” said Dr. Nicole Cavender, Vice President of Science and Conservation at The Morton Arboretum. “Every tree is important and worth protecting.”

Volunteers tagged 500 trees in Chicago last year.  This spring the number increased to 1,500 trees in Chicago and another 2,000 trees in 7 suburban communities. More than 60 volunteers pitched in to help from scout troops, community groups and companies.

Sponsors included Morton Salt, Inc., BMO Harris, and Davey Trees. “Three out of four Chicago volunteers were employed by our sponsors,” said Jill Koski, Vice President of Development. “Even the CEOs of Morton Salt and BMO Harris rolled up their sleeves to help out.”

With so many groups involved, the arboretum designated point people for each aspect of the program. Clear communication – both internal and external – was critical to the project’s success.

Word spread quickly. All three major TV networks shared the story with a combined viewing audience of 1.5 million. Extensive print and social media coverage also extended the program’s reach.

The future of tree tagging

Frank Lloyd Write - tree quoteWill the arboretum tag trees again next spring? Maybe. The team is still tabulating results from this year’s effort. In early August the team will kick-off planning for Arbor Day 2013. “We’re always looking for creative new ways to engage the public and spread the word to plant and protect trees,” said Dr. Cavender.

You can tag trees in your hometown, too. The Morton Arboretum sells Tree Tagging Kits on its website. 

* The Tellabs Foundation did not fund The Morton Arboretum’s tree tagging effort. However, we have funded other initiatives at the arboretum, such as The Children’s Garden and China Tree Conservation Program.