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How the Arbor Day Foundation Brought Brands Together to ‘ReGreen’ Detroit

Image credit: Albert Chau/Sustainable Brands

At this year’s Sustainable Brands conference in May, we did something that we hadn’t done before — it was an ‘aha’ moment. Sustainable Brands and the Arbor Day Foundation — the world’s largest member-based tree-planting organization — partnered to host the first volunteer experience for conference attendees to get their hands dirty. This urban tree planting event, “ReGreening the Good Life,” was a fitting jump-start to the SB ’17 Detroit conference. More than 55 volunteers from the conference helped plant trees in a downtown Detroit park.

The success of the tree planting was two-fold. The trees — co-sponsored by General Motors and Procter & Gamble — were part of Detroit’s broader reforestation initiative to revitalize the city’s bleak riverfront where new housing developments were planned. The park is a central gathering space for the surrounding community and a gateway to adjacent Lafayette Park. These new trees will not only add value to the neighborhood but will benefit the city for generations.

Additionally, the tree planting event brought volunteers together from a wide range of companies, including UPS, Chick-Fil-A, Walt Disney and more.

“Procter & Gamble prides ourselves in making a difference in communities where our consumers reside,” said Tonia Elrod, Director of Communications at P&G Family Care. “We are pleased to help re-green the city of Detroit though this planting initiative.” The event was an unorthodox way for attendees to network, and experience firsthand the impact of the work of organizations such as the Arbor Day Foundation.

Urban forestry is a key component to a healthy and resilient city; the goal of the tree planting event was to highlight how conference attendees could walk their sustainability talk in our host city. Municipalities across the country save millions (often billions) of dollars every year for simply having a healthy tree canopy. Unfortunately, invasive diseases and insects such as Dutch elm disease and the emerald ash borer can wipe out thousands of trees, leaving communities vulnerable and lead to a ripple effect of ancillary complications. This was the case in Detroit, where the city has lost roughly 500,000 trees to Dutch elm disease since 1950 and hasn’t fully recovered because of economic constraints. The decline of the city’s tree canopy has left a visible impact on the city.

One of Detroit’s biggest challenges is stormwater management. Several efforts are underway to help address the problem, but trees – a natural solution – are one of the simplest and most cost-effective solutions. Trees collect excess stormwater runoff and cleanse the water that drains back into watersheds. Additionally, these trees will help mitigate pollution and urban heat island effect, cooling the city and extending the lifespan of surrounding infrastructure such as roads. These trees will provide cleaner air to residents and keep the city cool. According to a recent Arbor Day Foundation study, 94 percent of people believe having trees in their community make them happier. The trees planted at the downtown Detroit Park are already working to solve some of the city’s most challenging conflicts.

This tree planting event at Sustainable Brands reminded us not only of the importance of urban forestry, but of the power trees to bring people together to create positive change.


Dan Lambe has spent 20+ years creating and directing programs to advance conservation and consumer related issues around the nation and the globe. Dan joined the Arbor Day Foundation in January of 2005, and leads the innovative programs and partnerships… [Read more about Dan Lambe]