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WestRock And Arbor Day Foundation Team Up To Restore Urban Tree Canopies

The destruction of trees has played a major role in climate change, and replacing those trees will play a major role in the solution. Trees heal and protect the planet in numerous ways, from sequestering carbon and intercepting stormwater runoff to removing pollutants from the air, soil, and water.

This is not only important out in the wild, where deforestation has impacted ecosystems worldwide. It is also important in urban centers that depend on tree canopies to cover, cool, and protect the ground.

Among the companies working to add more tree canopies to cities is WestRock, an Atlanta-based manufacturer of sustainable paper and packaging products. In July, it announced a partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation to invest in 10 urban tree canopies within WestRock’s global operating footprint.

Photo Courtesy Arbor Day Foundation

The goal of the initiative is to provide greater access to urban trees and public green spaces, particularly in communities with limited resources. Tree canopies – which refer to the amount of visible tree cover you can see from above – have become an increasingly important part of municipal efforts to become greener.

“A greater tree canopy enables more green space to spend time in nature, walk pets, or exercise. It means increased health and wellness outcomes for the citizens who call that city home,” WestRock’s Mandy Burnette and the Arbor Day Foundation’s Ben Wilinsky wrote on the GreenBiz website.

WestRock and the Arbor Day Foundation originally joined forces in 2019. Much of their work involves pinpointing neighborhoods in greatest need of trees through the use of tools such as NatureQuant’s NatureScore index.

Photo Courtesy NatureQuant

The announcement updated plans to improve tree canopies in 10 communities that currently lack sufficient environmental resources. The foundation’s main role will be engaging local partners to bring together community leaders, nonprofit organizations, and citizens to discuss the benefits of trees and where they are most needed.

The work requires more than simply planting trees in the ground. It also requires ensuring that communities are receptive to assistance and then providing them with the tools to become more sustainable. 

WestRock reviewed project proposals and selected sites based on socio-economic and environmental data as well as guidance from local leaders and the Arbor Day Foundation. Its employees were enlisted to help execute the selected planting projects via partnerships with local community members.

Photo Courtesy Arbor Day Foundation

The company’s interest in sustainability goes beyond restoring tree canopies. It also lays claim to a long history of promoting recycling and sustainable forest management. In late 2021 WestRock upped its environmental commitment by setting a 2025 target to make 100% of its products recyclable, compostable, or reusable, with the aim of transitioning to a more circular economy.

The company is exploring ways to advance the strength and sustainability of fiber-based packaging. Its work in this area includes the following:

  • Developing new methods for sourcing virgin fiber in partnership with landowners and certifying organizations. 
  • Exploring technology that makes fiber-based packaging resistant to water and grease with enhanced thermal insulation, while preserving its recyclability. 
  • Working with customers to create packaging that is right-sized for use, with advancements in design and customized machinery that increase the overall efficiency of their operations through on-demand machinery solutions.

“Sustainability and innovation are fundamental to our vision to become the world’s best paper, and packaging company,” WestRock CEO David Sewell said in a press release announcing its 2021 Sustainability Report. “The measurable targets we’ve put forth in the report demonstrate how we deliver valuable support and innovation to our customers. It captures how we’re helping them reach their sustainability goals while winning in the marketplace.” 


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