It is abundantly clear that trees help people to feel good, heal fast, keep cool and stay safe; but can they help the bottom line? According to the available evidence, trees are unquestionably good for reducing costs and increasing profits. In fact, because of the perpetually warm temperatures of Southern California, Los Angeles area merchants are among those who stand to benefit the most from capitalizing on the economic benefits of trees in their operations.
Preempting the Pushback
Retail merchants often worry that trees will reduce their store’s visibility or require additional labor to maintain. While it is understandable that they do not want to impair marketing efforts or waste employee time sweeping up leaves, such problems are often overstated. In practice, careful species selection and proper pruning can eliminate many visibility problems. Many cultivars are available that do not exhibit the litter problems associated with the wild species. For example, non-fruiting sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) cultivars do not produce the woody “spike balls” for which the species famous.
If planted in a well-conceived manner, trees reduce heating and cooling costs. Consider, for example, a large retail shop with a large, south-west-facing wall. This wall absorbs the sun’s most intense rays, and causes a sharp rise in summer cooling costs. Now, imagine the same building, but with a row of trees along the exposed wall. The trees not only provide shade, but they create a cooling effect on the environment through the process of transpiration. A 2002 study by H. Akbari provides some of the most compelling evidence that trees help reduce utility costs. According to the study, the annual electricity savings of an office building surrounded by three trees amounts to between 10 and 35 dollars for every 100 square meters of roof area. (Akbari, 2002)
Trees in parking lots are beneficial as well. According to a 1999 study of trees in Davis, California, trees significantly improved the parking lot environment. The study, which was published in the “Journal of Arboriculture,” found that trees reduced the ground-level temperatures by as much as 36 degrees Fahrenheit. (Klaus I. Scott, 1999) This undoubtedly leads to a better customer experience, which encourages return visits.
Money Does Grow on Trees
Trees do not just reduce costs; they actually attract and help retain customers. According to study, after study, after study, customers prefer well-planted shopping areas to those without trees. The Ontario Heritage Tree Alliance has published a partial list of the economic benefits that accompany trees, including those that relate to retail sales. The Alliance cites a 1999 study that found that consumers were willing to pay more for parking, goods and services in well-planted business districts. (Heidenreich)
Trees Don’t Trim Themselves
On the other side of the equation, trees create an abundance of jobs as well. In 2009 alone, California ReLeaf put $3.3 billion in employee pockets. Because the jobs associated with trees are so diverse, it is difficult to estimate how many people nationwide are employed by trees in some fashion (check out this list of 50 tree-related professions by the Tree Foundation of Kern, a non-profit group that works with urban forests). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40,000-odd people were employed as tree trimmers or pruners in 2013. However, this number represents only a percentage of those who work in tree care, as the Bureau does not include self-employed tree trimmers in its statistics. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013)
Akbari, H. (2002). Shade trees reduce building energy use and CO2 emissions from. Environmental Pollution.
Heidenreich, B. (n.d.). The VALUE OF TREES: Making the Case for Tree Protection. Retrieved from http://www.ecee.on.ca/docs/Heidenreich%202010%20The%20VALUE%20OF%20TREES.pdf
Klaus I. Scott, J. R. (1999). EFFECTS OF TREE COVER ON PARKING LOT MICROCLIMATE AND VEHICLE EMISSIONS. Journal of Arboriculture.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2013). Tree Trimmers and Pruners.