What Can I Do to Promote Energy Conservation with Trees in My Community?

Creating Healthy Communities, Trees for Energy Conservation August 26, 2013 Print Friendly and PDF

The best ways to promote energy conservation with trees in your community are educating others about the benefits of urban trees, advocating for tree planting and protection, and taking action to increase local tree canopy cover.

Although most people can appreciate the comforting shade of a tree on a hot summer's day, many do not realize how large an impact that trees can have on energy consumption for both cooling and heating buildings. Therefore, most people under-estimate the energy conservation benefits that trees can provide. Without this awareness, people are not inspired to plant trees on their property or support public efforts to increase tree canopy cover. So start by educating yourself about tree benefits and then share this knowledge with community members and decision-makers.

Your own yard provides you with a great opportunity to take action to increase your community’s tree canopy and will directly benefit your own energy conservation efforts. After educating yourself about trees and energy conservation, put that knowledge to work by planting appropriate trees in suitable locations on your property. And then invite others to your property to see how trees can be put to work on conserving energy. Lead by example!

Don't despair if you don't own your residence or if you live in a multi-family complex. Communities often collectively own open space, parks, greenways, or playgrounds where tree canopy cover can be increased. Local associations are also a good pipeline for educating neighbors about tree planting for energy conservation. Information can be disseminated to neighbors through newsletters, door hangers, and social media. Community groups or homeowners associations can benefit from purchasing trees in bulk at reduced unit cost, and these costs can be shared collectively through association fees or dues.

People are educated and persuaded in different ways. For the tech-savvy, an alternative strategy for demonstrating the benefits of trees might be found in a web application called i-Tree Design. This application, developed by US Forest Service and Davey Resource Group, allows users to see the monetary benefits of planting hypothetical trees around their homes. The convincing part of this program is that it uses the actual residence plotted on Google Maps. And it shows how tree benefits increase through time as trees grow larger.

 

Beyond your neighborhood, there are opportunities to expand the message of tree benefits across your town or city. Many organizations work to address green space conservation in urban and suburban areas. Civic groups, non-profits, and local government are commonly interested in improving the quality of life in their communities. Trees are often a unifying theme for these groups working to improve quality of life. Working as a part of one of these groups to increase canopy cover over streets, parking lots, and plazas not only beautifies these areas, but can also help conserve energy by mitigating the heat island effect of these expansive built spaces. 

Working with local government through advocacy roles, citizens can often influence policy and practice in their communities to help improve energy conservation by working to implement good urban forestry practices. Some actions to consider that can improve community level energy conservation using trees:

  • Examine the municipality’s ordinances to determine if there are local regulations for the planting and conservation of trees and forests.  
  • Advocate for a tree protection ordinance that regulates tree removal and replacement during the land development process.
  • Advocate for a landscape ordinance that requires tree planting on multi-family residential and commercial properties, with particular emphasis on shading buildings and parking lots.
  • Advocate for requirement of tree removal permits to minimize arbitrary tree removals.
  • Examine the municipality’s zoning and comprehensive plan to determine if tree and forest conservation are being carefully considered as part of the land use and development process.
Photo Credit: Raina Sheridan

Two municipal government divisions are typically engaged in tree and forest management at the local level: the Department of Public Works and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Interested citizens may have opportunities to become involved in these departments through citizen advisory councils or volunteer projects.

Other practices to help promote energy conservation in your community using trees include:

  • Seeking out public and private partnerships to promote and support tree planting efforts.
  • Creating a local volunteer group for trees.
  • Educating the community about energy conservation benefits of trees.

 

By: Eric Wiseman, Associate Professor, Dept. of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation, Virginia Tech

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.