Can You Really Plant and Grow a Tree For One Dollar? We Break it Down
Meaghan Weeden | July 21, 2022 | 12 min read
How Much Does it Cost to Plant a Tree? It's Complicated
As an environmental nonprofit that’s dedicated to making it simple for anyone to help the environment by planting trees, we’re committed to honoring our promise that we’ll plant one tree for every $1 donated. But truthfully, reforestation is anything but simple. And as we often say, it’s about more than planting trees. It’s about growing healthy forests.
People often ask us: how do you plant a tree for $1? And we understand that there has been some controversy about reforestation organizations making false claims. We take that very seriously, and strive to be very transparent about how donation dollars are spent. And we're proud of our amazing network of reforestation partners and everything that we've accomplished (and will continue to accomplish) together. That said, the answer is different for every single project we support, but the simplest answer is that we don’t do it all alone. Planting trees isn't a one and done process — and the more of us that are invested in a project, the more successful it will be in the long-term.
There are many legitimate organizations out there that are working in the environmental protection and reforestation space, and each one operates using different models and cost structures. Some organizations may focus solely on protecting biodiversity, while others invest a lot of time working on women's empowerment. Every one of them is unique — which doesn't make them better or worse, or more or less legit — just different.
If you’re curious about the breakdown of costs that go into planting a tree for $1, here’s an overview — with the caveat that every project is different, and that cost structures vary by region, impact area, species planted, and other factors.
Here’s how One Tree Planted plants trees around the world, using our One Dollar, One tree model:
Every One Tree Planted project starts with a detailed proposal from a local planting partner, which lays out where, why and how the trees are being planted. This goes through many steps of review before a single seedling goes in the ground. Every project has a budget, which breaks down the primary costs that are covered by us. At a glance, these are:
- Seed/seedlings (typically $0.30 to $0.80 per tree)
- Site preparation & planting (typically $0.20 to $0.50 per tree)
- Equipment & materials (typically $0.05 to $0.20 per tree)
- Site monitoring & maintenance for 3 years (typically $0.30 to $1 per tree)
These costs vary greatly depending on the type of project and location — and often, the total budget required will be more than $1 per tree. This is where we work with the local planting partner to determine where One Tree Planted funds will have the most impact. Sometimes, the partner will already have some of the required resources covered — for example, landholders who are willing to let them plant on their land and help out with site preparation & maintenance; or a volunteer network that can help out with planting labor.
Typically, One Tree Planted will cover the cost of the seed/seedlings at a minimum, plus everything else that we can cover within our model. When we can’t fund absolutely everything that’s required for a successful tree planting project, we use a blended finance model to ensure success.
Here's a breakdown of each step in the process:
Step 1: Project Proposal & Vetting
Included in our operations budget
Reforestation proposals are submitted to us by local planting organizations. These could be grassroots conservation groups, governmental stewardship organizations, global conservation organizations, and more. Our experienced Projects Team will then vet the proposal using our Project Criteria, which is strongly influenced by the science of restoration ecology and the International Standards and Principles for the Practice of Ecological Restoration. When vetting projects, we assess several aspects that are essential to success, including secure land tenure, meaningful stakeholder engagement, species selection and seed sourcing, restoration methodology, community engagement, potential risks to young trees, necessary site preparations, proposed maintenance, and more.
Step 2: Seed Collection and Propagation
Seed/seedlings (typically $0.30 to $0.80 per tree)
Once a project is approved and funding is secured, the process of planting trees begins in earnest. First, seed is acquired and propagation begins at the nursery. Here, skilled staff sow seeds in plant pods, and provide them with the nutrients, medium and conditions needed for this vital first stage of growth. There’s a lot of science and expertise that goes into this step to ensure that the seeds grow into strong and resilient saplings, increasing their likelihood of survival. Typically, our on the ground partners already have the supporting infrastructure in place for this process.
Step 3: Planting Season
Site preparation & planting (typically $0.20 to $0.50 per tree)
Equipment & materials (typically $0.05 to $0.20 per tree)
Before any trees can be planted, the planting site needs to be prepared — which often involves clearing weeds and fencing the site to prevent livestock and other grazing animals from getting to the young trees. Seedling transport and planting material costs also come into play, and depend on factors like the proximity of the nursery to the planting site, fuel prices, costs for materials like mulch and tree guards, and general equipment costs like shovels, bags, and more.
When the planting season arrives, a team of professional and/or volunteer tree planters hand plant the saplings (or sometimes use specialized planting machines), one tree at a time, at the prepared planting site. Sometimes this happens over the course of weeks, and in other cases, it can take months (or longer) if multiple planting seasons are needed to execute a large-scale, multi-year project.
Step 4: Maintenance & Monitoring
Site monitoring & maintenance for 3 years (typically $0.30 to $1 per tree)
After the trees are planted, they’re maintained and monitored, with the assistance of our monitoring experts, to help ensure optimal growth and long-term survival. Depending on partner capabilities and project specifics, we employ a variety of methods and technologies to support monitoring and documentation — including using apps, drones, geo-tagged photos, video, and personal site visits from our staff.
Operations And Transaction Costs
And finally, a small percentage of every donation goes towards processing fees and transaction costs. After all other costs are accounted for, anything that remains is invested into our operations. Beyond keeping the lights on, this includes bringing in expertise to support sustainable growth, and enhancing our strategy and operations to ensure that we’re using the best technology, restoration methods, and monitoring practices. We also work hard behind the scenes to support our partners with storytelling, technical training, networking and educational opportunities.
What is Blended Financing and How Does it Affect My Donation?
Many of our projects involve blended financing, where we combine resources with other funders to make a bigger impact at scale. This helps ensure that the funds that we contribute go directly towards planting trees, and enables our on-the-ground partners to get additional support for other costs, or to support complementary activities.
Our objective is to scale up reforestation and get more trees planted, and to share these incredible projects with the world so that they can continue growing their impact and reach. You can rest assured knowing that your donations will always go directly towards restoring healthy and thriving forests and trees — and that every $1 is attributed to one tree planted.
Joining together with other funders helps to support the success of a given project by making sure that all of our partners’ needs are met. Our contribution often helps our partners get matching grants from municipalities and other sources, so that they can cover additional costs, including:
- Purchasing or leasing the land
- Community engagement and educational workshops
- Ongoing maintenance of the trees
This is a win-win for everyone involved, but especially for the communities and ecosystems where the trees get planted.
Doesn’t that lead to Double Counting?
In the reforestation world, double (or triple) counting is a major concern. This is when multiple parties claim they planted the same trees, creating an inflated perception of how many trees are really getting planted globally.
We work hard to ensure that this doesn’t happen in our projects by developing strong, long-term relationships with our planting partners, who understand our goals and funding model. We won’t fund projects with blended finance from similar reforestation organizations to us, who would also be reporting on the trees to their supporters. We also address double counting risks by utilizing satellite monitoring and geo-tagged photos, conducting in-person site visits, and within our contractual agreements.
What about projects that are outside of the $1/1 Tree model?
Some of our projects fall outside of the $1 per 1 tree model due to higher tree planting costs, local bylaws, costs to purchase and buy land, and more.
In Europe, costs are higher because the region is densely populated and highly developed, resulting in scarcity of land. Green land is often in use for intensive agriculture. People and material costs are high. This has recently been exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has caused oil prices to spike and inflation to increase in almost every area of life. There’s also a lack of capacity in sapling nurseries and a high demand for tree planting, which results in high sapling costs.
In Australia, higher wages and high land value can make projects more expensive. Costs are also higher when fencing and tree guards are required to protect saplings from grazing animals and livestock, or when water is not readily available at the site. Different types of reforestation also cost more — for example, rainforest trees often take longer to grow in nurseries, increasing the cost per seedling. In tropical & subtropical regions, weed control after planting is another significant cost.
How about urban forestry and community events?
We also have an Urban Forestry and Community Events program that has a different funding model due to the higher costs of planting trees in urban areas — and also a different goal. Urban trees are the hardest working trees we plant, and the real measurement here is not the cost per tree, or even the number of trees planted: it's the number of people who's daily lives are positively impacted.
That said, the cost per high-impact urban tree varies greatly and is based on geography, planting location (street tree vs park tree vs school tree), nursery availability, stock size, and more. For example, due to permitting requirements and planting standards, street trees in some cities can cost upwards of $2,000 — whereas a similarly sized street tree in other cities may be $350. Plantings at parks or other urban greenspaces tend to be cheaper, ranging from $100-200 per tree. While still extremely beneficial, these trees have a less direct impact on urban heat than, for example, a street tree that’s planted in a more developed urban area.
In the spring and fall, we organize 50-100 different volunteer tree planting events (and related environmental activities), which are free for the public thanks to funding from our sponsors. The objective of these tree-planting projects, in addition to environmental benefits, is to connect local communities with the opportunity to experience hands-in-the-dirt restoration work. We also work with businesses to facilitate unique employee engagement opportunities through tree planting events that allow teams to connect with nature, give back to their local community, support healthy native habitats and build team morale!
So there you have it! If you’ve made it this far, you should have a clear understanding of our cost structures and funding model. And of course, you can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org any time and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions. Seriously, we love talking about trees and reforestation! Just want to support reforestation? Plant a tree or sign up to become a business partner today!