Editor’s note: Jad Daley is president and CEO of American Forests and leader of the US section of 1t.org. Marc Benioff is president and co-CEO of Salesforce. The views expressed in this commentary are theirs. Read more opinion on CNN.
When we joined countries, companies and NGOs two years ago to launch the 1t.org global partnership, we knew it would not be a panacea for climate change. Leaders throughout the forest climate movement, including ourselves, have always made it clear that the most important step we need to take to combat climate change is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In recent months, despite the deadly fires, floods, heat and drought fueled by climate change, a steady stream of criticism has been leveled at the burgeoning global movement to use trees as a response to the climate crisis.
Some critics have warned against pretending that planting trees is a permanent climate solution, concerned that reliance on trees will curtail other climate efforts. Others fear that planting the wrong trees will lead to less resilient and less biologically diverse forests.
But we believe it would be a grave mistake to ignore or downplay the indispensable role that tree protection and growth can play in tackling climate change. In the United States, for example, our forests captured approximately 13 percent of US gross greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. In addition to protecting our existing forests, there are millions of acres across America where we can plant and grow more trees, such as reforesting burnt areas and planting trees in urban areas. And we know that our efforts must lead to biologically diverse forests, and only in ecosystems where trees belong. That’s why we and our partners adhere to best practices like the ’10 Golden Rules’ for forest restoration.
The private sector has a particularly important role to play here. Companies can bring invaluable resources, expertise and technologies to be sustained in responsible, science-based ways, both for the forestry movement and for the wider fight against the climate crisis.
There must be zero tolerance for “greenwashing,” where a company might exaggerate or misrepresent the actual climate change impact of its investment in natural climate solutions. Companies must practice transparency through rigorous public reporting and using technologies that allow stakeholders to see exactly what their investments are accomplishing. The ability of stakeholders to see and verify climate investment can hold companies accountable and motivate them to invest in truly rigorous and credible projects.
Investing in nature-based solutions like trees cannot be an excuse for companies to continue emitting dangerous levels of greenhouse gases. Companies that are committed to zero net zero should match their investments in carbon removal efforts, such as reforestation, with changes to their operations that will reduce actual emissions.
Salesforce, for example, is supporting the conservation, restoration and growth of 100 million trees by 2030, prioritizing emissions reductions and reaching 100% renewable energy for its global operations last year. For any emissions that remain afterward, Salesforce uses carbon credits to have net zero emissions remaining today. And PepsiCo is embracing more energy-efficient manufacturing processes and switching to renewable electricity, while also investing in natural climate solutions like forest conservation and restoration.
Companies can go beyond just paying for tree planting to help deliver forest climate solutions with rigor and innovation. They should look into ways they can contribute from their unique areas of expertise. Tech companies, for example, can donate products and pro-bono services to help partner organizations make better use of forest and climate data. Companies should also use their direct financial contributions to help less resourced partners develop and execute projects. This includes partner spending on things like designing climate-resilient plantations and training workers to implement these cutting-edge forestry approaches.
We welcome the ongoing debate on how best to achieve our climate goals. But as we move forward, let’s not ignore climate solutions, including natural ones, like trees. This is how we can sustain the climate momentum we have been working towards for so many decades, get more people and communities involved in this urgent work, and spare the world from the worst effects of climate change. It can’t just be the work of governments and environmentalists. It must be the business of the business.