Toronto nonprofit is combating climate change through tree planting

Updated: November 12, 2019

Photo by Shutterstock/G-Stock Studio

On October 17 at Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works, GrandTrees Climate Solutions officially launched their campaign to raise $1 million for local tree planting and ecosystem restoration. The organization was created to support grandparents and grandchildren planting trees across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to combat climate change and CO2 emissions.

“One angle, particularly in Toronto, is to get private residents planting trees on their lots because that seems to be the strongest way to bring up our canopy cover,” says Sarah Grant, GrandTrees Executive Director.

Toronto’s current canopy cover sits around 26 per cent, but city council has committed to raising that number to 40 per cent. Grant, however, says that over half of Toronto’s land is privately held. To solve this, the money raised by GrandTrees will subsidize the costs of tree planting for homeowners.

“They’re going to see benefits from the tree,” Grant says. “There’s lots of research that shows people are happier and healthier when they’ve got more trees around them, not to mention the cooling effect.” GrandTrees will also advise on the type of tree that should be planted and how to take care of it.

Toronto Mayor John Tory was on hand for the announcement, putting his full support behind GrandTrees, even bringing his mother, Liz Tory. Grant says GrandTrees hasn’t officially partnered with the city, but they are in talks. “They recognize that it’s not something that they can do alone and that it needs to be done in partnership.”

To learn more about how GrandTrees got started and what its goals are, we sat down with founding member Al Zikovitz (Zikovitz is also the founder and CEO of Cottage Life).

How did GrandTrees get started?

There’s a group of us who get together once a year pre-Christmas. We’re all ex-publishers or Toronto Life people. There’s Michael de Pencier who was the publisher, myself, Ken Rodmell who was the art director, John Macfarlane, the editor, and a couple more.

Last Christmas, we got together and we got into this discussion about what’s happening with the environment. We all seemed somewhat concerned and we’re all about the same age and we all have grandkids. We felt guilty about the mess we’ve left behind for our grandkids to live in. Thirty years from now we want our grandchildren to still like us not hate us.

So, someone said, ‘Instead of talking about it why the hell don’t we do something about it.’ That’s how we got the idea for GrandTrees.

Why did you choose to do this in the Greater Toronto Area?

We used to have 40 per cent tree coverage and it’s down to 26 per cent in Greater Toronto. But guess where all the cars are and where all the pollution is. It’s right here. The best way of absorbing the CO2 is through trees, planting trees. Old trees are dying and not being replaced by new ones. Trees are being cut down by developments and nobodies replacing them. The city can only do so much.

I also live in the city, and so do many cottagers. At Cottage Life, we’ve done a very good job helping to protect the environment up in cottage country, but I think it would be nice to do something right here as well. I think so many cottagers would like to see something done in the city.

What is the GrandTrees walk?

On May 10, which is Mother’s Day, we’re going to have a walk at the Brick Works. Grandchildren and grandparents can raise money together and do a walk or a crawl or a stroll or whatever they want, and raise money and plant trees in the Greater Toronto Area. I think it’s a wonderful bonding opportunity with the grandkids. We expect a lot of the parents—our kids—will be fully supportive of it and participate as well.

We can show our grandkids we really do care about them or that we do care about their future and the planet they’re going to live on. We don’t want to leave a mess behind.

Why the Evergreen Brick Works?

We looked at a lot of different places and were trying to find a place that we can get to, a place where we can get some support. The Brick Works has the whole infrastructure already there. It’s also a great place to walk. And the Brick Works is very much into this, very much into helping the environment. They’re wonderful partners for us.

 What does the future of GrandTrees look like?

We’re trying to raise $1 million for the first time around. We’re about a quarter of the way there already. If we reach that goal, who’s to say we can’t raise even more.

We’ve also thought that if this works in [Toronto], why can’t it work in Peterborough, in Windsor, in Montreal, in Calgary? Why can’t it work in Chicago and New York? Why can’t it work in Berlin and everywhere else around the world? Let’s green our cities all over the world and do it for our grandkids.

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