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Saving Energy Through Trees & Technology

Jan. 5, 2022
There are even opportunities for energy companies to team up with local planting organizations to maximize the positive impact it can have on the community.

Trees impact the world. Plain and simple.

They are some of the oldest living organisms on this planet, and they work hard to care for the earth. Trees purify the air and water and provide a home to wildlife everywhere they exist. Even with the changing climate, trees are a constant. Sometimes they are a natural constant, but other times human intervention and action ensure their continuous presence on this planet. 

People need trees, and trees need people.

People also need innovation, and technology has been one of the main avenues of innovation. Technology has completely changed how almost everyone interacts with the world around them. It constantly seeks to improve and maximize any process humans have, from daily communication to self-driving cars, vegetation management, and even planting trees. Technology has even helped to bridge the gap between utilities and trees.

Utility companies and energy service providers are often viewed in opposition to urban trees. However, the Arbor Day Foundation does not believe this to be the case. The Arbor Day Foundation is the world's largest membership nonprofit organization dedicated to planting trees. There are even opportunities for energy companies to team up with local planting organizations to maximize the positive impact it can have on the community.

The Arbor Day Foundation believes in planting trees, but even more strongly, they believe in the right tree planted in the right place. When tree planting is enhanced by technology, it saves even more energy, builds stronger relationships, and helps reach sustainability goals.

Saving Energy Through Trees

Planting a tree near a house can seem like an innocuous choice of landscaping; however, more thought should be given on where precisely a tree would yield the most benefits for a homeowner. When a tree is planted in the most optimized location, it can reduce energy usage by anywhere from 7% to 20%, and two or more trees can even reduce usage up to 30%. This kind of impact helps level out a utility's demand curve and reduce extreme peak usage, thereby positively affecting a utility's bottom line. 

Seeing the problem and wanting to provide a solution, the Arbor Day Foundation worked with the U.S. Forest Service and the Davey Institute to build a research-based online mapping tool to help utility customers find the best location on their property for their trees. This mapping tool is a part of the Energy-Saving Trees and Community Canopy program which are both celebrating 10 years of positive environmental impact.

Energy-Saving Trees is a program that helps utility providers distribute free trees to their customers. Community Canopy is a program that allows companies, cities, states, and nonprofit organizations to build out and maintain its own tree distribution programs. Both programs were founded to provide people with free or discounted trees and the education to ensure the right tree is planted in the right place. The technology aims to help program members build and maintain tree distribution programs with relative ease. These programs offer an excellent avenue for service providers and any other professional entity wanting to make a positive, sustainable, climate changing difference in its community.

Strengthening Relationships

Even though utility providers and trees are not thought of as existing peacefully alongside one another, many different energy service providers can use programs like Energy-Saving Trees to strengthen the bond with the community where it operates. By providing trees to the community, utility companies have a chance to elevate their brand by showing their investment in the wellbeing of the environment.

There are even opportunities for energy companies to team up with local planting organizations to maximize the positive impact it can have on the community. For example, in South Carolina, Duke Energy has partnered with a local tree-planting nonprofit called TreesUpstate to hold tree distribution events. TreesUpstate helps distribute trees gained through the Energy-Saving Trees program and can scale up its tree-planting efforts due to the support of Duke Energy. 

TreesUpstate works diligently to educate and engage the community by distributing trees. Energy service providers like Duke Energy shows that it realizes the energy-savings benefits of trees and wants to improve the overall experience of trees and utilities living side-by-side. In addition, by providing access to specialized tree planting software through Energy-Saving Trees, energy service providers build a sense of trust with the community.

Utilizing Tree Technology

Giving away trees has always been a great way to engage the community and make a positive environmental impact. However, as with everything else, technology has found a way to further improve upon this act. With the program technology powered by i-Tree, there are even better ways to engage and educate the public on the trees they receive and where to plant them. For example, TreesUpstate is sponsored by Duke Energy to help drive engagement and success of tree planting events by using the program technology.

"The software helps us quantify the benefits of trees by giving us the 20-year iTree cumulative benefits forecasts," says Joelle Teachey, the executive director at TreesUpstate. "The ADF software helps provide the right tree in the right place to avoid utility conflicts and is a really powerful tool to help people plant the tree in the best spot for energy conservation and savings."

The software helps homeowners determine where a tree should be planted on the property to receive the most benefits over 20 years. After the user inputs their address and outlines the shape of their home, they can go through a catalog of trees offered by the partner and place the tree in different locations to see which area would yield the most benefits. This technology empowers the homeowner to feel confident in planting a tree that will be there for several decades.

In addition to all the benefits users have from this technology, partners who use the i-Tree technology as part of the Energy-Saving Trees or Community Canopy program can see the combined impact of the trees that have been distributed to their audiences. The partner receives specific data of gallons of stormwater intercepted, pounds of air pollutants absorbed, and pounds of carbon sequestered. Having advanced enough technology allows Arbor Day Foundation partners to quantify the impact of distributing free trees. 

Reaching Sustainability Goals

There has been a noticeable shift towards sustainability and how every company, not just in the energy sector, can reduce their carbon output and find additional clean energy sources. More and more energy providers are directing visitors to sections of their website dedicated to sustainability goals or detailing a climate plan for the provider. Of course, trees will always be a part of the solution when discussing sustainability or climate. 

Through the Energy-Saving Trees and Community Canopy software, partners are able to track just how well it can reach sustainability goals. For example, the Salt River Project in Arizona uses the Energy-Saving Trees program data to keep track of the exact amount of pounds of air cleaned and carbon sequestered. Then, it can find ways to adjust this goal to ensure it's on the right track or even surpass it entirely. 

"Salt River Project is in its fifth year of working with the Arbor Day Foundation, and thus far we have planted nearly 3000 trees," says Lori R. Jones, the manager of maintenance services at the Salt River Project. "Year after year, we are able to report the sustainable impact we are achieving with our Energy-Saving Trees solution."

Getting Started

Yes, a shovel in the ground can always plant a tree. But look at how far trees and technology have come. Tree planting software can now help determine where exactly a tree should be planted to have the most benefits.

Arbor Day Foundation programs like Energy-Saving Trees, Community Canopy, and Tree Line USA are prime examples of how energy service providers and utility companies can use tree technology to save energy, build stronger relationships and reach sustainability goals. Remember: planting trees is great, but planting the right tree in the right place is even better. 

About the Author

Kristen Bousquet

Kristen Bousquet is the program development manager for the Arbor Day Foundation’s Energy-Saving Trees program.She has been a member of the Arbor Day Foundation team since 2014 and has more than 20 years of experience in business development and marketing, including project leadership.

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