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GreenStep City Best Practices Environmental Management

Urban Forests
no. 16

Add city tree and plant cover that increases community health, wealth and quality of life.
  • The national Arbor Day Foundation's tree benefits page calculates how much the trees in a residential yard are worth. Also see this simple estimator of the benefits individual street-side trees provide and the MN Dept. of Natural Resources page on energy conservation through trees.
  • i-Tree tools are state-of-the-art, peer-reviewed software from the USDA Forest Service that help communities measure tree canopy cover and the value of community trees for energy savings, stormwater management, carbon sequestration, air pollution reductions, and property value enhancement.
  • A 2017 publication by USDA Forest Service researchers quantifies the residential building energy conservation and avoided power plant emissions by urban and community trees in the United States. In Minnesota, the benefits include:
    • Estimated energy savings of 325,500 MWh and associated value of $35,100,000 statewide due to trees around residential buildings.
    • Avoided emissions from power plants for the state of 1,077,000 (metric) tons CO2, 1,300 tons NOx, 1,632 tons SO2, 33 tons PM2.5, 23 tons PM10, and 5 tons VOC.
  • Among 2005 U.S. Forest Service studies are data showing that single trees in southern or central Minnesota can generate a net benefit (total benefits minus initial and annual maintenance costs) of $160 - $3,040 during a 40-year period. The nearly 200,000 public trees in Minneapolis alone provide a total gross annual benefit of $24.9 million. Benefits analyzed are:
    • Energy savings and reduced CO2 emissions. Shading/wind breaks reduce residential energy used in air conditioning and heating (25% in summer and 20% in winter).
    • Increased property values and rents. Humans are hard-wired to value the natural world and will pay 9% more for a house with a tree within 50 feet. Properly placed trees can increase property values from 7-21% and buildings in wooded areas rent more quickly and tenants stay longer.
    • Beauty and all the resulting intangible and financially significant personal/mental health and social benefits.
    • Improved retail sales in tree-rich commercial districts. People have been found to spend up to 12% more on products if they are shopping in a district with mature trees.
    • Increased life of asphalt. Shading reduces degradation of paved road surfaces.
    • Reduced stormwater runoff and improved water quality. Old growth trees can decrease runoff by 59%.
    • Improved air quality. Trees filter pollutants: 90 lbs. of CO2, 3 lbs. of particulates and 4 lbs. of ozone per large tree per year.
    • Improved wildlife habitat. Trees provide nesting places and food for birds and other animals that make up a well-functioning ecosystem.
    • Reduced crime. One study demonstrated that apartment buildings with high levels of greenery had 52% fewer crimes than those without greenery.
    • Noise reduction. Trees absorb sound.
Step 3 recognition minimum for Category A and B cities
Category A cities are recognized upon completion of at least two actions.

Category B cities are recognized upon completion of at least one action.

Category C cities that choose to implement this best practice are recognized upon completion of at least one action.
Investments that protect and enhance a city's green infrastructure, which includes trees, living snow fences and other plant cover, deliver many financial, energy, quality of life and carbon sequestration benefits, just as do investments in a city's traditional grey infrastructure of roads and utilities (sewer, gas, electric and telecommunication lines). People love and gravitate toward tree-lined streets. Given a limited city budget, which always includes money for streets, the most effective expenditure of funds to improve a street would probably be on trees.
greenstep advisor
Ken Holman, Community Forestry Coordinator, MN Department of Natural Resources: 651/259-5269, ken.holman@dnr.state.mn.us, http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/forestry/urban
connection to state Policy

Use of trees is an optional measure in the Minnesota Green Communities criteria, used by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency in awarding funding for building affordable green multi-family housing.