Starting today, US customers can donate $1 to plant one tree by telling Alexa devices, “Alexa, grow a tree,” Amazon announced today. Customers can follow how many trees they have planted in their Amazon Pay account.
Amazon also said it is donating $1 million to the environmental organization it is partnering with on the initiative, called One Tree Planted.
The money will initially go to four different projects in the US and India. In Center County, Pennsylvania, the funds will assist in the reforestation of land devastated for mining, logging and agriculture. In California, “hardworking foresters will spend time promoting better vegetation planning and resource management” to prevent wildfires from getting out of hand, according to One Tree Planted. In the Pacific Northwest, newly planted trees near rivers and streams should help keep water clean for the salmon spawning grounds that killer whales depend on as a food source. The campaign also says the fruit trees it plants in India will “fight hunger, improve local economies and fight climate change.”
Those are all pretty big claims and extreme complex problems, so it is worth making this kind of effort with a grain of salt. Your $1 dollar donation can plant a tree, but it’s alas does not guarantee that the tree will survive long enough to do the job it is supposed to do † whether that’s feeding a community, reforesting a mountain or clearing the habitat of salmon. In general, there are certain pitfalls that must be avoided for long-term tree planting campaigns to succeed. Organizations need to make sure they are planting the right tree in the right habitat, and it’s best to get buy-in from local community members.
Other, this kind campaigns run the risk of actually doing more damage to natural habitats and the people who depend on them. A damning study published last year found that tree-planting projects in India did not lead to an increased canopy size on average. Instead, it changed the composition of the forest away from tree species that local residents typically relied on. And experts warn that popular tree-planting initiatives could distract from actions more urgently needed to protect the planet, which is to reduce pollution in the first place.
Amazon’s own carbon footprint has continued to grow with its company in recent years. According to the latest sustainability report, greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were almost 20 percent higher than in 2019.