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Can trees do all the work?

Planting trees has long been considered a turn-key solution to offset carbon emissions from new development projects. After launching Carbon Planner in California, we found is that it takes roughly 5-6 acres of tree planting to sequester the same amount of MTCO2e per year as one single family house (27 MTCO2e/yr). This is measured in California's CEQA as emissions from Building Energy, Transportation, Water, Solid Waste and Construction, for one such house. This data gives you some idea of the magnitude of tree establishment and preservation that we have to think about when planning our urban communities.

There are many ways to reduce a home's energy consumption (even down to a zero energy home) to help with the emission/sequestration ratio. Building energy alone can be as much as 30-50% of the total emissions. So to significantly reduce those emissions (and make trees and open space relatively more effective), we have to consider mitigation in transportation, water and solid waste, which taken together can be as much as 70% of the total emissions.

Parks and open spaces play a key role in mitigation efforts and provide many added benefits for residents in communities where they live and work. However, the times of simply planting a tree are far behind us. Let’s work together to plan comprehensive design and development reform that mitigates environmental impacts well into the future.

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