Sometimes it feels like there’s only so much we can do in our efforts to be environmentally friendly. We can invest in reusables, but maybe we still need to drive to work if we don’t have reliable public transit. We can eat less meat, but maybe we don’t want to miss out on a trip that requires a carbon-heavy flight. Sure, corporations are responsible for a huge chunk of greenhouse gases, but we also all have a personal carbon footprint. Buying offsets—paying to reduce in some way the emissions you’ve generated—has become a popular Band-Aid to some of these conundrums. A new offset program lets you do it by helping people who live in rain forest communities.
Health in Harmony focuses on two areas of health: that of the planet, and that of individuals who live in and around rain forests. Those communities, such as one in Gunung Palung National Park on the island of Borneo, love their forests, but many of them have also had to resort to illegal logging to pay for things such as healthcare, says Kinari Webb, Health in Harmony founder. The nonprofit addresses both these issues by investing in reforestation, which helps to revitalize forests, sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and provide much-needed habitats for orangutans; and by providing healthcare to rain forest locals.
Those residents can pay for that care with seedlings and also receive training in other money-making efforts such as organic farming so they can leave logging behind. These locals also receive money to help plant and maintain these new trees, and those teams of planters are often led by women, per the nonprofit.
In its first 10 years, Health in Harmony says it saw a 90% drop in logging households in their locations, and it helped grow back 52,000 acres of rain forest. They also saw a 67% decline in infant mortality within those communities, “which basically tells you the communities are doing better, they’re healthier and happier, and at the same time the forest is protected and in fact regrowing,” Webb says. Now, the nonprofit has launched a new carbon offset program, which allows anyone to donate to reforestation efforts—$4 buys one seedling, and five seedlings can sequester one metric ton of carbon from the atmosphere over 10 years—while also investing in these indigenous communities.
A big reason for this effort is that the people in these rain forest communities were asking for it, Webb says. “After 10 years when logging dramatically declined, we [asked] ‘What do you all need and want now?’ These communities are still very poor, but the number one request was for reforestation,” she says. “The other is that, while we know that reducing emissions is very important, we also know that . . . we just can’t go to zero. It’s essentially impossible. Most of those changes that need to happen are system-wide changes, which means that on an individual basis and a company-wide basis, people need an option to be able to offset.”
For the carbon offset tool, you can enter the number of hours you spent on a flight or gallons of gas your car has guzzled to get a calculation of how much you should donate to offset those emissions (the average person’s year of car travel can be offset for $96, per the nonprofit). You can also add in any additional carbon to offset; the average American is responsible for 19 tons of CO2 emissions a year, and if you want to completely cancel that out with new trees, Webb says that can be offset for a monthly donation of $31.75.
“We’re also very excited about companies doing this, companies not only interested in offsetting their carbon for travel but also, say, the amount of data storage carbon,” Webb adds. “It’s not just about looking good to your customers, although it certainly does look good to customers, right? It’s about a long-term investment in the sustainability of your own life, of our whole society, and of your company, because if we continue on the track that we’re currently going down, no one’s company is going to be doing well.”
Webb says they wanted to provide a “high quality” offset, meaning an option that avoids “monoculture” replanting, which doesn’t do anything to replace the biodiversity of a forest, and an option that actually survives instead of being immediately cut down by future logging or killed by fires. The nonprofit plans more than 100 species of trees, including indigenous fruit trees native to Borneo and their other reforestation sites. Health in Harmony says these sites have an 80% survival rate over 10 years, and to ensure the seedlings turn into carbon-sequestering trees, the nonprofit also invests in the care and maintenance of those seedlings—through watering, weeding, and fire prevention—for the first three years.
“After three years they’re much stronger, they’ve got a good root system, and they’re fine on their own,” Webb says, “[though] we continue to prevent fire forever.” That survival rate is also taken into account in the carbon offset calculator by planting more trees than actually necessary for that amount of carbon sequestering, just in case they don’t all survive. Currently, Health in Harmony is planting in Indonesian Borneo and just started a reforestation program in Madagascar. The organization hopes to expand to Brazil this year as well, where it aims, with the help of donations through this offset tool, to plant more than a million trees in total over the next five years.