What's a tree worth? About $700, says a report by Craig Alexander, chief economist of TD Economics. In a recent study of Toronto's urban forest, Alexander determined that the city's trees provide more than $80 million, or about $8 per tree, worth of environmental benefits and costsavings per year. He says for an average household, it works out to about $125 worth of savings per month.
In recent years "there has been increasing recognition of the environmental and economic benefits urban forests provide," says Alexander. "It's important to keep in mind that these values only quantify a portion of the overall value provided by urban forests. Many of the benefits that are important to communities esthetic values, recreational spaces, community importance are difficult to quantify and are not included in our valuation."
The report says that Toronto's urban forest includes 10 million trees, with at least 116 different species covering almost 30 per cent of the city. The replacement value of these trees is more than $7 billion, or $700 per tree, says the report. It says for every dollar spent on annual maintenance, the forest returns from $1.35 to $3.20 worth of benefits and cost savings every year.
Energy costs are on the rise and eroding the purchasing power of Canadian households, says a recent report by Scotiabank. It says that despite conservation efforts and technological advances to improve energy efficiency, the share of household expenses allocated to energy products has been rising since the late 1990s.
"The retail price of gasoline, fuel oil, electricity and water have all notably outpaced broad inflation since the 1980s, and increasingly so since the new millennium," says the Scotiabank report.
"Given the potential for real energy prices to continue to drift higher over the medium term, there is a strong economic incentive for Canadians to reduce their energy consumption or at least slow its rise," says the report.
One way to do that is by planting some trees. They provide shade for buildings and block winter winds. "Properly situating trees around a structure can reduce air conditioning needs in warm seasons by onethird and heating requirements in cooler seasons by onequarter," says the TD Economics report. "In fact, the annual net cooling effect of a young healthy tree is equivalent to 10 roomsized air conditioners operating 20 hours a day."
The report estimates that Toronto's trees save 750,000 MBTU of natural gas consumption and more than $400,000 of electricity, which works out to $6.5 million per year in energy savings. This also avoids 17,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year, providing additional annual savings of $400,000 to $600,000 says the report.
"On their own, these effects might seem small, but over the long term these benefits make a significant contribution to environmental well being," says Alexander.
The urban forest is also helping the city's aging infrastructure as it deals with storm water management. Alexander estimates that trees and shrubs intercept 25 million cubic metres of rain and snow, providing more than $50 million worth of value by reducing the burden on the infrastructure and reducing property damage.
Trees also improve air quality, removing 19,000 metric tons of air pollution annually. "Comparatively speaking, the amount of particulate matter removed by Toronto's urban forest each year is equivalent to the amount released by over one million automobiles or 100,000 singlefamily homes," says Alexander.
"We can estimate that the amount of air pollution abated by Toronto's urban forest generates an annual savings of $19 million just under $2 per tree."
Trees also remove carbon and store it in their woody tissues. The report estimates that the amount of carbon stored in Toronto's trees at 1.1 million tonnes. "To put this in perspective, this is equivalent to the amount of carbon emitted by 700,000 automobiles each year," says the report.
It says the value of the stored carbon is $27 to $37 million, or $160,000 to $230,000 per square kilometre. The total amount of carbon sequestered through photosynthesis is valued at $1 million to $1.5 million.
Alexander says rental rates for commercial office properties are as much as seven per cent higher on sites that have highquality landscaping that includes trees.
The Scotiabank report notes that energy efficiency is not usually the primary reason why people renovate their homes, but that energyefficient components are often incorporated into new projects.
You likely won't think that planting a tree in your yard will save you money, but Alexander says, "The cost savings produced by our urban forests make it clear that keeping the green on our streets keeps the green in our wallets."