The concept of Treedom is relatively straightforward. It is an online platform that allows users to choose a tree which will end up being planted amongst cropland (agroforestry) and bring various social and environmental benefits to the local communities. Agroforestry describes trees being grown on the same piece of land being used for agriculture. It has many benefits including improved soil quality and stability, water management and reduction of run-off, diversification of farmers’ goods increasing profits, and regulation of microclimates by providing shade and shelter which can increase biodiversity in the region. The trees to be planted can be chosen based on the species, the benefits e.g., fruit production, CO2 sequestration potential, or trees can be gifted for a special occasion e.g., birthday trees. Trees are first grown in nurseries after which seedlings are transferred to the farms and monitored through geolocation and photographs. Businesses, as well as individuals, can also take advantage of Treedom by planting a company forest to offset their carbon emissions. Companies who have taken advantage of this include P&G, Google, Colgate, Samsung, and many more.
Treedom states that their work explicitly works towards 10 UN Sustainable Development Goals: no poverty, zero hunger, quality education, gender equality, economic growth, responsible consumption, climate action, life on land, reduced inequalities, and partnership for the goals. Currently, Treedom is working in 17 countries and has already helped 121 643 beneficiaries by planting 2 067 942 trees which have captured 568 982 tonnes of CO2.
There are a variety of tree species that can be planted by Treedom including cacao, baobab, lemon, and avocado. Each tree is assigned to a country as it has the correct properties for the specific project, so even though trees can be chosen and purchased by the individual, the project that they contribute towards is predetermined. However, I think that this could cause potential issues. Firstly, I think that some trees will be more popular than others, such as cheaper or more familiar trees, resulting in projects involving those trees being supported more. This could lead to lack of diversity within farms as well. Secondly, I think that the western buyers will not know which properties are most needed by the communities, so may be undervaluing important trees.
The interface for picking out the tree is extremely user friendly and great visually, providing lots of information. Trees can be bought by individuals or gifted, with certain trees being marketed for certain occasions, such as zodiac trees, baby trees, student trees etc., after which the monitored tree can be followed online. In order to help an individual or business decide how many trees to plant there is a carbon footprint calculator on the website, which helps to conceptualize the process and what it will achieve. However, I think this can be improved by it being emphasized on the website that the calculation will not be completely accurate and that it is better to make more sustainable choices than to simply offset the carbon. From my research, I believe that the carbon absorbed by the trees planted is calculated using the Treedom Standard, which measures carbon in units of individual trees rather than the usual (1 credit = x tonnes of carbon). The storing capacity of the tree is calculated as it grows. The Treedom Standard allows smaller farms to enter the voluntary carbon market as certification costs are lower and smaller quantities of carbon can be captured and counted. However, for this to be successful the trees need to be there permanently, and their effect needs to be additive i.e. the farmers would not have planted the tree anyway. These issues are covered in the Code of Ethics, but it is still hard to verify additionality.
The process starts with tree nurseries where seedlings are produced. These seedlings are then distributed to farmers and the tree is planted in their field. The tree is maintained until it can provide an income for the farmer. In order to make up for any potential losses dead trees are replaced within this period and 5% more trees are planted than are bought. Farmers are trained in tree maintenance and the communities receive support during the growth period. Treedom prides itself in transparency and guarantees that trees that are paid for are planted. This is ensured through recording trees’ GPS coordinates and photo monitoring. Permanence of the trees, which is important to ensure all of the promised benefits can be yielded, is guaranteed through annual checks to verify the trees presence and good health. The trees’ progress is recorded and can be viewed online.
Treedom has a published Code of Ethics which aims to ensure that all operations are sustainable, both socially and environmentally, and follow Treedom’s values. Treedom values additionality, permanence, and sustainability, so that all trees planted bring extra long-term benefits to the environment and community, and so that any potential damage is avoided. The Code of Ethics seems thorough, however I could find little on how it is enforced and the prior checks that are taken to ensure that the location and species chosen will not be detrimental.
Treedom’s Code of Ethics makes it clear that they “respect human rights and workers’ rights” under their ‘Right of the individual’ section. There is also a section which emphasizes community support and inclusion, as well as democracy and lack of discrimination. As mentioned previously, the Code of Ethics seems very well thought out and reassuring, however it is hard to tell how stringently it is followed and exactly to what degree these principles are followed. For example, the importance of diversity is emphasized, however when looking at the members of the board there is a clear lack of diversity, with the board only consisting of men and the majority being white. This is especially worrying when the projects Treedom is involved with work so closely with women and are situated in countries in the tropics.
Treedom is a certified B Corporation as of 2014 with a constantly improving score over time, currently scoring 122.4 out of 200. In order to be certified, a corporation must have a score of over 80 points in total. Treedom’s breakdown across the main 5 categories is as follows: governance 20.1, workers 38, community 26.9, environment 32.5, and customers 4.7. There is no minimum score in a category needed to certify, which is evident here by Treedom’s low customer score. Poor customer service is obvious, with poor reviews being plentiful online and there being various issues with the website I encountered. Despite B Corps being highly regarded and praised for working towards goals other than solely profit, there are issues with this certification, for instance companies needing to pay a fee to become certified. But my biggest issue with Treedom being a B Corporation is the fact that this certification is only given out to for-profit businesses, therefore Treedom is not an NGO (non-profit organization). The aim of for-profit organizations is “to maximise profits and forward these profits to the company’s owners and shareholders”. I do not believe that these should be goals of a tree planting organization working with marginalized communities, but rather to maximize the good that is being done, and that all money should be going towards the advertised work. At first glance, Treedom appears to be a charity and it seems that all money is going towards the tree planting and farmer training; I think there is an issue with transparency here between the individuals buying trees and Treedom.
The trees are much more expensive than other schemes that I have looked at e.g. WeForest, Ripple Africa, Trees for Cities, with the cheapest tree being €14.90. Treedom justifies this cost by saying that this includes the expenses for the nursery, seedling distribution, maintenance, planting an additional 5% trees to make up for tree failures, and monitoring to ensure permanence. I could not find the financial records and see the breakdown of the costs, and am also aware that the company is a for-profit organization, so do not know how much of the cost does not go towards the projects. I am very doubtful that the majority of the money goes towards the project as One Tree Planted gives a detailed financial breakdown for each tree also including monitoring and growth in the nursery, but covers the cost for one tree with $1. I think if I had limited money to donate towards a tree planting scheme, I would choose a different scheme as I think my money would go further and have a larger impact. There are many non-profit organizations whose main focus is tree-planting and working closely with communities, even focusing on agroforestry projects e.g., Trees for the Future, so I would donate to these charities over Treedom due to this difference in priorities.
<Official website> https://www.treedom.net/en/
<Code of Ethics> https://www-treedom-net.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/docs/treedom_methodology_01_code_of_ethics_en.pdf
<B Corp> https://bcorporation.net/directory/treedom
<Non-profit v For profit> https://www.topmanagementdegrees.com/difference-between-nonprofit-for-profit-companies/
<Treedom reviews> https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/treedom.net