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American Forests, GreenLatinos, Groundwork USA, and One Tree Planted Join Forces to Launch a New National Tree Equity Alliance

by Meaghan Weeden â—Ź July 27, 2023 â—Ź 7 min read

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Today, American Forests, GreenLatinos, Groundwork USA and One Tree Planted launched the Tree Equity Alliance, a new partnership to create a unified voice on the critical need for equitable tree canopy in communities and pooling the funding, community engagement, federal and local policy efforts, and planning expertise of these partners to advance “Tree Equity” across 100 cities by 2030. The coalition aims to deliver the benefits that robust urban forests offer in improving health, environmental justice, and economic outcomes, especially for low-income neighborhoods. New data from American Forests now shows that lower-income neighborhoods have 36% less tree cover and are 6 degrees warmer than higher-income neighborhoods, while communities of color tend to have 45% less urban canopy and are 9 degrees warmer.

“With heat-related deaths projected to grow from 12,000 to nearly 100,000 annually over the next decade, mainly affecting disadvantaged urban residents, the new Tree Equity Alliance is taking on the greatest moral imperatives of our time,” said Jad Daley, CEO and President of American Forests. “American Forests has helped build the Tree Equity movement across America over the past five years, and we are thrilled to join forces with these powerhouse organizations in a collaborative, intersectional approach to Tree Equity, ensuring our collective work is improving cities in the most equitable ways possible.”

Utilizing data drawn from American Forests’ renowned Tree Equity Score tool as a baseline, the founding partners will harness their prior collective investments in high-need neighborhoods in places such as Richmond, Virginia, and High Falls, Rhode Island, and expand their collaboration to new cities such as Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, and beyond. The Alliance will drive forward diverse activities that leverage each member’s approach, from strengthening local advocacy for Tree Equity and environmental justice among Latino/e communities (GreenLatinos); to improving shared leadership in urban planning processes and increasing forestry career opportunities within low-resource communities and municipal agencies (Groundwork USA); to planting tens of thousands of native and climate-resilient trees with community stewards and volunteers (One Tree Planted). As the Alliance partnership expands, so will the capacities offered to communities, creating a holistic approach to improving neighborhoods’ tree canopy via community design, land use, transportation planning, and other practices.

“We urgently need more trees in our most heat vulnerable and polluted neighborhoods,” said Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, Sustainable Communities Program Director at GreenLatinos. “Data shows that Latinos are 21 percent more likely than white people to live in communities with heat island conditions. Overall, people of color are exponentially more likely to live in urban heat islands and must travel further to access green spaces. Lack of tree coverage can deeply impact the experience of living – whether someone is walking down a hot asphalt street, playing in a treeless park, or forced to wait for a bus in the scorching sun. The Tree Equity Alliance seeks to create more green infrastructure in partnership with and under the guidance of local environmental justice advocates and organizations. Their knowledge will guide our efforts to plant trees and invest in their care in the places that work best for every community.” 

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“The climate crisis is here and the smoke filled skies, rising temperatures, and flooding streets are impacting our health, safety, and social wellbeing. Urban trees are one of the simplest ways to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis in frontline communities, but how we approach this work, and who we do it with, are equally as important,” said Groundwork USA’s Chief Officer of Climate Resilience and Land Use Cate Mingoya-LaFortune. “For two decades, the Groundwork Network has worked with community members to center their voice and leadership in environmental justice efforts. We have seen time and again that deep and meaningful partnerships between residents, community organizations, and municipalities is the only pathway to achieving wise and lasting solutions. We are thrilled to join forces with GreenLatinos, One Tree Planted, and American Forests to model how through an intersectional, holistic approach, we can leverage the movement towards tree equity to create safer, greener, and more just communities for all.”  

The foundational goal of the collaborative will be to reach and support 20 cities on their Tree Equity journeys, in addition to expanding to welcome new partner members and launch a national communications campaign on the critical need for Tree Equity. Other key outcomes of the Alliance over the next five years will include: 

  • Investing $5-$10 million in local funding for communities to invest in improved planning, policy, and financing opportunities that advance Tree Equity;
  • Engaging 10,000-15,000 residents in community-led planning and tree planting processes;
  • Planting over 20,000 trees in low-Tree Equity Score communities in the U.S.; and
  • Engaging hundreds of residents and service organizations in workforce opportunities in the tree care industry.

“We are proud to join forces with American Forests, GreenLatinos, and Groundwork USA to launch the barrier-breaking Tree Equity Alliance and plant trees in the urban communities that need it the most,” said One Tree Planted Founder, Matt Hill. “One Tree Planted will draw upon our proven reforestation strategy to enable the thorough but nimble implementation of Tree Equity Alliance projects.”

Group tree planitng

The Tree Equity Alliance is launching on the heels of the largest federal investment in climate change and urban forestry in U.S. history. The Inflation Reduction Act allocates $1.5 billion for urban and community forestry, dedicated to funding equitable tree cover to help cool urban heat islands and save lives, energy, and improve career opportunities among disadvantaged communities nationwide. In the long-term, the partners aim to leverage this monumental public funding to increase their impacts among its shared communities and neighborhoods. 

Initial funding for the Tree Equity Alliance and support for all four partners is thanks to the generosity of Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. 

The founding partners of the Tree Equity Alliance invite organizations across communities and sectors to join this effort in order to broaden impact and help ensure that even more communities can enjoy the benefits that robust tree coverage provides. To learn more, visit theTree Equity Alliance landing page.

About Tree Equity 

With few exceptions, trees are sparse in neighborhoods with fewer resources and more prominent in wealthier ones. Redlining policies dating back to the 1930s, laid the groundwork for the tree inequity we see today between communities of color and white communities.  Studies show neighborhoods that were redlined today have fewer trees, leading to inequitable outcomes in  long term mental and physical health, extreme weather impacts, and civic pride and connections in these neighborhoods. For example, trees have been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and cut overall risk of chronic disease by up to 50 percent. Nationally, people living near greenery have reported a 41 percent decrease in feelings of depression and 63 percent decrease in self-reported “poor mental health.” Trees also reduce heat-related illnesses and utility costs, with new research demonstrating that heat-related deaths can be cut by 30 percent with healthy tree cover in cities.

The demonstrated positive impact of trees is why the Tree Equity Alliance is leading a movement to mobilize communities and partners to invest in and improve Tree Equity nationally, and help ensure that well-maintained trees in the right places become  essential infrastructure, much like streetlights, schools, and sewers.  

ABOUT AMERICAN FORESTS: American Forests is the first national nonprofit conservation organization created in the U.S. Since its founding in 1875, the organization has been the pathfinders for the forest conservation movement. Its mission is to create healthy and resilient forests, from cities to wilderness, that deliver essential benefits for climate, people, water and wildlife. The organization advances its mission through forestry, innovation, place-based partnerships to plant and restore forests, and movement building. 

ABOUT GREENLATINOS: GreenLatinos is an active comunidad of Latino/a/e leaders, emboldened by the power and wisdom of our culture, united to demand equity and dismantle racism, resourced to win our environmental, conservation, and climate justice battles, and driven to secure our political, economic, cultural, and environmental liberation. We envision a healthy and equitable society where communities of color are liberated from disproportionate environmental burdens, free to breathe fresh air, drink pure water, access clean transportation and enjoy our majestic public lands, ocean, and waters.

ABOUT GROUNDWORK USA:  Groundwork USA is the national capacity-building organization for a network of people-centered environmental justice organizations, Groundwork Trusts,  working hand-in-hand with residents to transform environmentally disadvantaged urban neighborhoods into communities that are healthy, green, and resilient. For over two decades, we have worked to undo the legacies of poverty and racial discrimination and build the capacity of communities to effect change in the natural and built environments in which they live. We do this by developing community-based partnerships that empower people, businesses, and organizations to promote environmental, economic, and social well-being.

ABOUT ONE TREE PLANTED:  One Tree Planted is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is on a mission to make it simple for anyone to help the environment by planting trees. Their projects span the globe and are done in partnership with local communities and environmental organizations to create an impact for nature, people, and wildlife. Reforestation helps to restore forests that have been degraded or deforested, provide jobs for social impact, and restore biodiversity habitat. Many projects have overlapping objectives that contribute to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Learn more at onetreeplanted.org. 

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Meaghan Weeden
Meaghan Weeden

Meaghan works to share our story far and wide, manages our blog calendar, coordinates with the team on projects + campaigns, and ensures our brand voice is reflected across channels. With a background in communications and an education in environmental conservation, she is passionate about leveraging her creativity to help the environment!