The Global Sustainability Fellows Program


The Lab Offsets Students’ Travel by Planting 100 Trees

While preparing to launch the GSF’s pilot session, we received a note from Christoph Pfisterer, a student at the University of Konstanz in Germany, who decided not to apply to the GSF because of the harmful amount of carbon released into the atmosphere as a result of students traveling to Costa Rica from all over the world.

Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, founder of The Lab, responded to Christoph by acknowledging the importance of his concern and suggesting that The Lab follow a practice instituted by Ray Anderson, a longtime friend and member of the Lab’s Advisory Board. (You can read the whole exchange, here.) We made the following promise:

“We shall follow the late Ray Anderson and the practice adopted by his company, Interface, in planting trees for travel. According to Interface, an organization with a commitment to carbon offsets, a tree, in its lifetime, will sequester the carbon generated by 4,000 passenger miles traveled on a commercial jet. Accordingly, we shall plant a tree for every 4,000 miles traveled by participants in the program.”

The GSF Pilot Session, which took place in July of 2014 at EARTH University in Costa Rica, drew 20 students from 15 countries, as well as four international faculty members, and two support staff. We looked into every travel itinerary for international travel to the GSF and tallied the miles. Though it was a bit of an inexact science, we came up with a number around 275,000 miles. Divided by 4,000– the amount of carbon sequestered by a tree during its lifetime–we get 68.75. We rounded up to 100 trees for good measure.

We invested in an organization called Plant-It 2020, which plants indigenous trees in non-harvest locations around the world. Of all the countries on their list of locations, there were five that matched home countries of GSF participants: Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, The Philippines, and the US (and New York, specifically). We therefore chose to plant 20 trees in each of these locations, as a representation of our fellows.

For some of these locations, there is more information available, which we are reproducing here:

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 2.56.34 PMKenya

Problem: Massive deforestation
Benefits: Replenishing the forests and increasing crop production.
Where: Large projects throughout Central and Western Kenya. Several tree-planting locations are near the protected forests of Mt. Kenya and Kakamega Forest Preserve


Problem: Deforestation of about twenty particular mountaintops endangers the Monarch Butterfly as their over-wintering home is destroyed.
Benefits: Reforesting these mountaintops helps save the Monarch Butterfly from extinction.
Where: Michoacán, Mexico


Problem: Massive deforestation
Benefits: The planting of fruit and other trees provides food while countering hillside erosion
Species: Leucaena, Moringa, Jatropha, Calliandra, Mahagony and others
Where: Near Mt. Tapulao, Central Luzon; Loobbunga, Moraza, Taugtog, Botolan, Zambales

The Lab is grateful for this opportunity to be proactive about travel emissions, and to participate in this important conversation! 

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