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Planting a Forest with Code: Lob's Reforestation Efforts
May 29, 2018

Planting a Forest with Code: Lob's Reforestation Efforts

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Marcus Gartner

Sharing a common love for the natural beauty of the Earth, a handful of Lobsters congregated last fall during our yearly internal hackathon. We were motivated to explore what positive impact we could make on the environment in three-days time. With the help of our Checks API, we built an automated donation service that has helped plant over 11-thousand trees in Haiti, Madagascar, and Nepal via Eden Reforestation Projects.

As the group brainstormed methods to service the environment it became clear that the most tangential effort was to help offset our Print and Mail product's consumption of trees for paper. Despite our use of paper sourced only from FSC-certified mills and sustainable forests, the chilling reality of humanity's destruction sparked us to do more. Every minute, 27 soccer fields worth of forests are cleared, adding up to 18.7 million acres of annual deforestation1. In Madagascar only 10% of original forests remain2. Cutting down forests destroys habitats for thousands of organisms, and it is estimated that deforestation produces, directly or indirectly, a staggering 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Our group decided to plant trees and heal the wounds of deforestation, through monthly donations to Eden Reforestation Projects, an organization with a mission to restore healthy forests and reduce extreme poverty.

To further emphasize the bond between our paper usage and our reforestation efforts, we settled on planting at minimum the number of trees that are required to produce all the paper used in Lob mailpieces. Deducing the exact number of trees used in making paper is not plausible, so we use an equation for a rough approximation.

On the first of each month, we tally the number of each type of mailing sent in the previous month. We determine the mass of paper used by multiplying each of these counts by the width, height, and density of the form factor and summing the results. We then convert this mass to the equivalent number of 20lb bond sheets, a normalized value that makes it easier to convert to a number of trees. Finally, assuming a single tree produces 8,333 sheets, we estimate the total number of trees used3. To offset even more than we consume, we donate double this number of trees.

Working within the tight time frame of the hackathon and optimizing for a minimal amount of manual work to keep donations going, we built an automated service to send checks to Eden via our own Checks API. Relying on an existing cron-like scheduler for recurring tasks, our program queries our internal records for the number of mail pieces sent in each form factor, performs the calculations mentioned above to determine the number of trees to donate, converts this into a monetary value representing the cost for Eden to plant these trees, and creates a check through our API. This check, like all checks created on Lob's platform, is printed and mailed to its destination without our hackathon group having to worry about any of the logistics (though actually maintaining and operating these logistics constitutes our normal day-to-day work).

When the API request is sent to create the check, we include metadata denoting how many trees will be planted. This allows us to track the number of trees we've planted over time. To add visibility for the entire company into our reforestation efforts, we use webhooks along with Zapier to automatically email the company every time a check is created.

Having planted over 11,000 trees in the last 6 months with virtually no manual intervention, this hackathon project has been an unquestionable success. It is an exemplary use case for our Checks API, and it was serendipitous to attain our reforestation goals with the use of our own product. Ultimately, this small hackathon project catalyzed the creation of Lob's Environmental Impact Group. This group meets once a month and has started other environmentally conscious initiatives, such as reducing office waste. Through this group, we aim to further Lob's efforts and commitment to protecting this special oasis in the vast universe.

Click here to stay up to date with what the environmental impact group is doing at Lob.

1 https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation
2 https://www.edenprojects.org/our-work
3 https://conservatree.org/learn/EnviroIssues/TreeStats.shtml

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