Talking Eco-Friendly Living, Responsible Tourism & Giving Back with One Tree Planted’s Environmental Evangelist
by Dave Armenti
October 16, 2020
with Matt Hill
Founder, One Tree Planted
Popular opinion: Travel is amazing. There’s no better way to immerse yourself into a new culture, than actually, you know, immersing yourself into it. But in recent years it’s become clear that the industry can do travel better. More responsibly. More sustainably. With greater compassion toward Planet Earth, the wildlife—and the people—that inhabit it.
At EF Ultimate Break, we strive to do our part by working with local suppliers to design eco-friendly activities on our trips that minimize our footprint. But we can all practice sustainability in our personal lives, too—from minimizing plastic waste to starting a community garden. Or, if you're able, contributing to the environmental charities that make this their mission. That's why we’re partnering with One Tree Planted (and you!) to take on global reforestation.
One Tree Planted is dedicated to making it easier for individuals and businesses to give back to the environment and help reforestation efforts around the world—by, you guessed it, planting trees.
Below, we talked to Matt Hill, Founder of One Tree Planted, about what they're doing to create a healthier climate and protect biodiversity, why Costa Rica is the ultimate eco-success story, and what you can do to play your part.
EFUB: You started your career in business development, launching a nutritional company and then leading a sustainable food packaging company. What was the “a-ha” moment for focusing solely on trees and reforestation?
MH: I was working in the sustainable packaging industry, trying to motivate businesses that create a lot of waste to use sustainable materials instead in order to have a lower waste and carbon impact for the environment. I had a conversation with a colleague who wanted to do more and I suggested that his business plant trees to help restore degraded landscapes for biodiversity, because trees have so many benefits. At the time this colleague couldn't find a simple way to do this at scale, so he said, "You should start that! I'll be your first donor." And the idea for One Tree Planted as a reforestation nonprofit was born. It took a few years to start seeing a real impact on the ground, but now One Tree Planted has developed the systems and partnerships to support reforestation all around the world.
Kenya. © One Tree Planted
EFUB: When most people think about the benefits of trees to the environment, it's usually their oxygen production that gets highlighted. But they do so much more for not just the health of our planet, but humans as well. What is it about planting a tree that can make such a big impact?
MH: We have what we call the 6 Pillars of Reforestation, which are air, water, biodiversity, social impact, health, and climate. These are all the things that benefit from planting trees, and they're all connected. But you're right that beyond the environmental, wildlife, and human impact there's something special about the act of planting a tree that just feels more tangible than other actions for sustainability. We all know what a tree looks like, we understand that easily. Climate change feels overwhelming now, plus it's not always clear where your money goes if you support a broad conservation initiative, but planting a tree is clear, it's satisfying, it's planting and growing new life, which is powerful.
EFUB: You founded One Tree Planted to make it easier for people and businesses to contribute to global reforestation. What made it so challenging to do so before and how has One Tree Planted worked towards this goal?
MH: Keeping it simple and positive has been our motto. We share uplifting stories about the good work on the ground, send reports to donors to show the impact they helped to make, and are very friendly and open to new ideas on the team. As a young organization we are nimble and adaptable, we're always testing something in our processes or communications to continually refine how we do everything, and we recognize that many businesses these days are moving towards sustainability so we try to help in that process.
Belize. © EF Ultimate Break
EFUB: Environmental issues are being discussed more today than at any point in history, from climate change to wildfires to the Amazon to dwindling wildlife diversity, and more. It can feel overwhelming for the everyday person to truly help on a grand scale. But we know little changes will add up. So, what can someone do to help in addition to contributing directly to causes like One Tree Planted?
MH: It really is the little things. Eat less meat. Buy less stuff you don't need, or when you do make purchases make them eco-friendly. Switch to renewable energy if you can or weatherize your home so you're not wasting energy. Carpool or take public transportation. Start a garden to help the pollinators. Talk to your friends and family about your passion, not in a way that's preachy because nobody likes that, but in a way that just makes thinking about sustainability normal. I think we'll get to a point where more of these things will be common practice. We're already seeing a big shift in that direction.
Thailand. © EF Ultimate Break
EFUB: The travel community can especially play a role by practicing Responsible Tourism. Not only making choices that are better for the environment, but support the communities we visit as well. What advice does One Tree Planted have for travelers to help offset their ecological and social footprints?
MH: Of course you can plant some trees every time you fly to help lower your carbon footprint, but you can also try to reduce waste wherever you go. Have your refillable water bottle to avoid the plastic, even having a steel fork and spoon can reduce the amount of plastic cutlery you might otherwise use. Be respectful to any resources wherever you go, such as trying to conserve water. And support local conservation efforts, things like national parks or wildlife preserves or anything that piques your interest. If you tell yourself that you're committed then you'll see opportunities to follow through on that with action every step of the way.
Costa Rica. © EF Ultimate Break
EFUB: This isn't the first time One Tree Planted has visited Costa Rica. What is it about Costa Rica that makes it such a great place to learn about and implement eco-friendly initiatives?
Costa Rica is an incredible success story when it comes to forests. 50 years ago they had a very high rate of deforestation, but then the government took action to stop illegal logging and incentivized reforestation. Now over 60% is a forest and it's a beautiful country full of biodiversity. Beyond that, it's a great place to visit because there are many eco-friendly activities and places to explore for nature and culture. We've had great experiences there and are thrilled for this collaboration because it's an opportunity to have fun and learn along the way.
What you can do
7 eco-friendly travel tips, brought to you by our travelers
Eco-friendly trips from EF Ultimate Break
by Dave Armenti
Dave is a marketing guy at EF Ultimate Break. His favorite trip was either feasting across Italy with stops in Florence, Venice, Assisi and Rome; or walking a total of 50 miles in 3 days as he gallivanted around Stockholm. A Boston local, Dave enjoys hitting outdoor breweries with friends, drinking iced coffee year-round, and spoiling his pitbull/husky pup.