In Madagascar, where 90% of the country’s forests have been lost to deforestation, the tech company Salesforce is working with a nonprofit to pay workers to plant and protect 10 million trees. In Australia, it’s paying to restore 30,000 native trees on degraded farmland. In Latin America, it’s funding more than 600,000 new trees in six countries in the Andes. In Tanzania, it’s helping fund the natural regeneration of 800,000 trees. In areas destroyed by wildfire in California, it’s helping support work to replace thousands of trees with species that will be less likely to burn in the next fire.
A little over a year ago, the company pledged to support the conservation and restoration of 100 million trees by 2030. It also partnered with the World Economic Forum to bring together companies, governments, and nonprofits around the much larger goal of planting and protecting a trillion trees by the end of the decade through a new platform called 1t.org. Today, Salesforce announced the first milestone in its internal plan: So far, it has funded 10 million trees in 19 different projects.
Like other companies funding massive tree projects—such as Apple, which poured money into a 27,000-acre mangrove forest in Colombia in 2018, among other projects—Salesforce recognizes the potential of trees to help fight climate change by sucking up CO2 from the air. By one estimate, there are nearly 1 trillion hectares of land on the planet where 1.2 trillion new trees could be planted, potentially sequestering around 200 gigatons of carbon. Other scientists say that those claims are overstated, though it’s inarguable that protecting existing forests and planting new ones will play a major role in whether the world can reach a goal of net-zero emissions. And many companies are fully embracing the strategy, even as they deal with challenges such as how to track what’s happening in distant forests and ensure that trees that are planted now remain standing in the future.
Over the last year, Salesforce began figuring out which projects to support as it met with nonprofits such as the Nature Conservancy and American Forests. “The simple way to think about it is we try and find projects that are putting the right trees in the right place, by the right people, for the right reasons,” says Max Scher, head of clean energy and carbon programs at Salesforce.
In Tanzania, a project trains local communities to manage landscapes so that, without requiring any direct planting of trees, seedlings naturally regrow in areas that might otherwise fill with grass and shrubs. As native tree species grow, the project could sequester an estimated 1.2 million metric tons of CO2 over 50 years. A project in Scotland is helping restore native woodlands on a farm, creating new sources of income while it continues to operate. In Madagascar, more than 200 workers are being paid a fair wage to plant millions of trees, patrol forests, and fight forest fires. The majority of the projects will happen in the next planting season, with nonprofit partners sending ongoing reports about tree survival, other ecosystem benefits, and impacts on local livelihoods.
In every case, the projects have to be more attractive for local communities than the alternatives. “Making it economically viable for the farmers is really key,” Scher says. “We want to make sure that you can get as much money for growing and conserving and restoring trees as you can from cutting them down and selling them to paper mills.”
The company is also working with startups such as Pachama, which is making it easier to track changes in forests through remote sensing, and Dendra Systems, which restores ecosystems via drone. A platform called Uplink, created in partnership with the World Economic Forum, shares some of the startups innovating in the business of forest restoration. Salesforce wants to help make it easier for other companies to implement similar programs. “To reach the big global goals, it’s going to require a big lift and a lot of folks,” he says.
Salesforce funded the first 10 million trees through philanthropic grants, but as it continues to work toward the goal of 100 million, some of the total will come from its own carbon offsets. The company, which plans to use 100% renewable energy by next year, first reached net-zero carbon emissions—meaning that it buys offsets for any emissions it hasn’t eliminated—four years ago.
Correction: We’ve updated this article to note that Salesforce is only funding the planting of 30,000 trees in Australia (though the entire project will still plant 150,000).