Wow, the UPS Foundation Really Likes Trees. Here's Why

Through its grantmaking and employee volunteering, UPS has planted some 3 million trees worldwide. The shipping company’s foundation has been around since 1952, but in the past few years it’s made trees the centerpiece of its green giving. 

United Parcel Service, as it’s known pretty much only on tax forms, is the world’s largest shipping and logistics company. Around 17 million packages a day, $4.4 billion in net income last year, more than 90,000 vehicles transporting shorts-wearing workers and cardboard boxes worldwide. (One of them just dropped by as I type this, no joke.) It’s got a decent-sized giving program, with $56.5 million given between the company and the foundation in 2013. 

Nearly $4 million of that went to the environment in 2013, according to the latest annual report, and the corporate foundation just announced $2.5 million over 10 environmental grants, much of it focused on the company’s forestry program.  

Related - UPS Foundation: Grants for Conservation

UPS started what it calls the Global Forestry Initiative in 2011, and in 2013 put an emphasis on the planting of trees. It started the One Million Trees Campaign that year, changing it to the Two Million Trees Campaign, and it will presumably be called a different multiple of a million trees in the future, since it just announced passing 3 million. 

Keep in mind, the foundation isn’t solely focused on trees, with $300,000 in annual funding typically going to World Resources Institute, recently for work in greenhouse gas reduction. But of the recent round of grants, more than half of them involve reforestation or planting projects, including largest grantee the Nature Conservancy, Earth Day Network, and the National Arbor Day Foundation.  

So why the big focus on trees? For one, most experts (although not all) believe that it has a genuinely positive impact, yielding impressive numbers about how much it affects CO2 levels and pollution. Such numbers, concrete stats to throw around in a sustainability report, are exactly the kind of thing a big corporate funding program typically is really into.

How exciting it is to say, hey our company is responsible for 3 million trees. That's a lot! You know how many metric tons of oxygen that is? A lot!

Reforstation is also more politically innocuous than other climate change solutions like, say, a carbon tax or, heaven forbid, a tax on overnight express mail. What's not to like about a Johnny Appleseed approach to saving the planet?

And staying innocuous is important for corporate funders, giving the diversity of viewpoints among shareholders, customers, and employees. The magic formula here is doing some real good while trying not piss anyone off. By that standard, a big tree planting push strikes us a brilliant.

Related - How REI’s Super-Local Corporate Giving Works

Just as important is how well planting trees dovetails into UPS's focus on volunteer time. Like a lot of corporate funders, UPS likes to weave together employee volunteer time (and donations) into their corporate responsibility program, and tree planting is the perfect sort of activity to put those eager employees to work. Get them out there with shovels and tally up the results. UPS makes a really big point of its volunteer hours in all of its sustainability program messaging.  

In fact, it’s so important to the company, that one of the only ways to break in with UPS funding is by first putting local employees to work as volunteers. The national grantmaking is very limited in terms of groups supported, with only a small number grantees in 2014. However, the company does have a locally controlled funding program that’s driven by employees. To be eligible, an organization must have received 50 hours of community service from UPS employees.  

That means if you work for a nonprofit, every time you have a package delivered, we recommend you ask the UPS guy to plant some trees for you. He'll totally do it.