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August 4, 2022

Planting the Seeds of Sustainability: A Closer Look at Lob and Eden Reforestation Projects’ Partnership

by 
Stephanie Donelson

Sustainability is something that we think about every single day. From working with printers that use recycled materials to planting two trees for every one used in the production of our customers’ mailpieces, we put a lot of care into our eco-conscious direct mail solution.

To support us on the tree planting front, we partner with Eden Reforestation Projects. Learn more about them and our environmental impact in this recent conversation between Lob’s Head of Social Impact & Sustainability, Christina Louie Dyer, and Eden Reforestation Projects’ Founder and CEO, Dr. Steve Fitch.

Watch the video below or scroll down to find a complete transcript of the 30-minute conversation on “The Power of Trees: Partnering for Positive Environmental and Community Impact.”

Transcript of "The Power of Trees: Partnering for Positive Environmental and Community Impact."

Christina Louie Dyer:

Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us today. We are excited to discuss The Power of Trees, partnering for positive environmental and community impact with Eden Reforestation Projects. I'm Christina Louie Dyer, and I lead Lob's social impact and sustainability work through Lob.org. Lob is the only direct mail automation platform for the digital age. Our platform automates the direct mail execution process for enterprises at any scale from creation, printing, postage, delivery, and sustainability with end-to-end analytics and campaign attribution. From the beginning, it's been Lob's commitment to minimize our footprint and build a more sustainable approach to direct mail.

We are on a mission to set a new sustainability standard for the industry. In addition to ensuring we use responsibly sourced raw materials, we plant two trees for everyone that we use in the production of our mail pieces, through our partnership with Eden Reforestation Projects, who we're so excited to chat with today. We love working with Eden because of their innovative approach in the ways that they invest in the communities they work in. We aren't only planting trees, but helping to provide employment opportunities for the communities where these trees are growing. Today, I'm honored to be joined by Dr. Steve Fitch, founder and CEO of Eden Reforestation Projects.

We'll be discussing more about Eden's innovative approach, impact, and how other companies can get involved in this important work. Steve, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Steve Fitch:

Great to be with you.

Christina Louie Dyer:

Wonderful. Well, Steve, to start us off, if you could please introduce yourself, tell us a little bit more about Eden's mission. And as a fun icebreaker, you plant many different... Actually you grow many different kinds of trees. If you could be any tree that Eden grows, which one would you be and why?

Dr. Steve Fitch:

You want me to start with that question or who I am?

Christina Louie Dyer:

Oh, let's start with who you are, and then we'll go into the trees.

Dr. Steve Fitch:

Steve, for those who I consider friends and family, and I hope that includes everyone listening in. I am 65 years old, been around the world a whole lot of my life, grew up in the Philippines, and through a series of bizarre incidents ended up being asked to launch Eden Reforestation Projects by President Haile Mariam of the Southern People's Region of Ethiopia. It's been quite the adventure in the last 17 years for what it's worth and it's really exciting.

We're now planting well over a million trees on average every single day. We have well over 10,000 global employees that are being lifted out of extreme poverty, and that's core to our mission because extreme poverty and radical deforestation are linked.

The bottom line is if you want to feed your children and you want to care for your family in general and the only resource left to you is cutting down a tree to turn it into charcoal, you're going to do it. We know that desperate people do desperate things and our approach is to take away that desperation and give them a fair wage, consistent, even long-term paying job so that they can, instead of being agents of destruction, they become agents of restoration.

My favorite tree, I have to say baobab. Maybe you can put a graphic up of a baobab because they are fascinating trees. They're called the upside down tree. And in many ways, I think that's a reflection of Eden's philosophy.

We take not environmental stewardship first as our mission, but poverty alleviation, so we flip the tree upside down, if you will, knowing that if you don't care for the poor, you will continue to see a destruction of the environment. We flip the equation upside down. We're baobabs.

Christina Louie Dyer:

I love that. That is a tree I will have to look up. I am not well-versed in the amazing amount of trees that there are, but I look forward to doing some more research after this. Thanks for sharing that. You started to talk about this already, but I'm wondering if you could actually another layer deeper walk us through Eden's model. How do you think about growing trees and engaging with the local communities? I love that you talked about, again, it's poverty alleviation first, and then it's the environmental pieces, but can you just walk us through that model as a whole?

Dr. Steve Fitch:

Yeah. Well, bottom line is, is you need to go with what actually works. Eden was launched in conjunction with my working on my doctoral dissertation. The focus was what works and what doesn't, and it was really easy to find what doesn't. It was challenging to discover what actually was working because Eden started with that request from Haile Mariam to take over a failed forest frustration site that was fully funded and expertly led. But nevertheless, after hundreds of thousands of euros, they didn't have any trees surviving. It seemed to me to be a no-brainer that you have to benefit the local community that live adjacent to or within a highly degraded landscape and give them an economic incentive to change their behavior.

What happens is the community begins to literally fall in love with their forest. They see all the benefits of a restored forest and recall the negativities associated with a destroyed forest. It is just simple linking these two very important goals, poverty eradication or alleviation and environmental stewardship, they become one mission. That's how we work. We just go in, build relationships with local communities, offer them a job. They say yes, because most of the time they never had a job that pays cash, and they're off to the races.

Christina Louie Dyer:

I love that, and I think it's a really good transition. You shared a great video with me that explains your emphasis on growing trees versus planting trees and the kinds of trees you that you grow, and also just kind of that community interaction and how folks are just really invested in the communities that they are living in and where they're growing these beautiful forests. I would love to transition this actually to the next seven minutes, I want to share that with folks so that we can, as you say, geek out on trees with you.

Dr. Steve Fitch:

Geek away.

There's a difference between planting a tree and growing a tree. There's a lot of stories out there about groups that'll claim, "We planted a hundred million trees in one day." No, they planted a hundred million seedlings or a hundred million seeds. And then you go back and you find out that the survival rate was next to nothing. When donors partner with Eden, they don't want just to see us plant a seedling or a seed. They want to see us grow a tree. The whole point of this video is to show you how we start with planting and we end up with growing a tree that joins together with so many other trees that turns into a healthy forest. A warning: I'm about to geek out on something that I find fascinating, and that is how different tree systems grow.

Beginning with mangroves. Mangroves are a fascinating tree species because their seeds, their babies actually are kind of pencil like or pen like. They actually grow on the end of the branch, and you go at the right time when they're starting to produce their first leaf. You pick them, and that is a ripe propagule. The process of getting 20 million or more propagules into the ground every single month is enormous, starting with managing thousands upon thousands of community workers to go out and clear the land that is covered in debris, and then going out and picking all of these propagules, millions and millions of them, every single month, sorting them by species, because each species has to go in their specific zone.

Some go in the really deep water areas. When the tide comes in, they can be covered with water and they won't drown. Others, bregaria for instance, has to be placed up higher in the tidal zone so it's never covered or gets drowned. You do this all in the right zones. You do this all in the right tidal times, all of these thousands of people to go into this estuary and get this job done. It's a big task. Eden does so much more than mangroves. We also do very large scale dry deciduous work, and then lowland tropical, lowland dry tropical, highland tropical. In Indonesia, true humid tropical rainforest. We're working all over the world, including Central America, where you have conifers and lowland tropical and highland tropical.

In Kenya, we do mangroves and Rift Valley acacia species. We've been working in the Rift Valley with Maasai people. They've done incredible work. They have very large scale nurseries, and they have been using nursery production and singling and seed balls. Seed balls are really simple. You're basically taking a golf ball size glob of compost and soil, a little bit of clay, and very specific species that grow quickly, germinate consistently and absolutely belong in that ecosystem. You form that little ball. As soon as the rainy season starts, you just poke a hole on the ground, put that little seed ball in the ground, and voila! It starts to grow. It needs about two and a half, three months of good, consistent rain.

Once the seed ball is planted, you end up with a seedling that has a well-established root system. It's able to survive the dry season. And then throughout the process, the villagers, the communities are guarding the trees and guarding these massive sites, making sure that no one walks through and knocks them over, cattle don't walk through and knock them over or eat them, making sure that the illegal loggers don't come through. It's quite the ordeal. In Kenya, we've only been there for about a year and a half. We have yet to see a mature forest, anything close to a mature forest. They're still small trees.

But if you compare that work to say Madagascar or Nepal, which are similar ecosystems, we know that by about year four, year five, year six, you're going to see a proliferation of canopy species, trees that are 9, 12, 15, 20-feet tall. And then natural regeneration kicks in, and that's our real ally. We're basically just working well with nature, giving it that boost, that head start to establish the canopy that provides the shade and provides the leaf litter with the nutrients and the moisture retention and the erosion control. There's birds. Then you see lemurs bouncing around and stuff, all kinds of life. Seeing nature reboot is amazing. We know you don't want us to just plant trees.

That's a good starting point, but that's not the goal. You want to partner with us to grow trees, to grow a forest. And that's what we're committed to doing with you.

Christina Louie Dyer:

Wow, Steve. It really struck me when you said that you are basically working well with nature. It sounds like such a simple concept, but at the same time, there are so many complexities and you're making it sound a lot easier, I think, than it really is. In addition to the community benefits and poverty eradication, I like using that instead of the alleviation, what are the environmental benefits of planting trees?

How have you really seen the landscapes and forests that you work with change over time?

Dr. Steve Fitch:

Well, it's really not that difficult of an equation to consider. I did a TED Talk a number of years ago and a smart aleck said people are amazed by the number of trees that we produce, but did you know that trees have been growing by themselves for some time now? And that got a chuckle, of course, but bottom one is our typical strategy, of course, is the local community become the agents at multiple levels. For instance, they gather the seeds or the propagules if it's a mangrove. It's seed, it's terrestrial. They produce the tree. They plant the tree, and then nature does its thing. Trees, of course, have just a multiplication of impacts. The thing that kind of always rings my bell is I love animals.

We're in this great extinction period once again in global history and the solution is always... Or the problem is always habitat loss. Let's restore habitat. All the lemurs and the chameleon and the monkeys and on and on it goes that can come back and live in a healthy forest. The forest, of course, do this nifty thing called sequester CO2 that mitigates the climate change crisis. And that's kind of a big deal. They also breathe out, if you will, the opposite of us, they breathe out oxygen and most of us appreciate that attribute. They are key though in establishing or reestablishing healthy soil, so nitrogen fixing trees. They control erosion, they control flooding. They actually significantly impact climate at a regional level.

You can geek out on this if you're so inclined. Forests are rain magnets. It's really interesting to study that whole aspect. There's just this plethora of benefits that come with healthy forest systems that it's really a no-brainer to restore forests, and there is no downside to restoring forests through the hard work of local communities.

Christina Louie Dyer:

Absolutely. A question about that, and I'll do some research as well, but I'm not as familiar with forests. You mentioned that they are rain magnets. Does that mean that as these forests continue to flourish, they actually inspire more rain to come? Or how does that work?

Dr. Steve Fitch:

Well, it's complicated. I know I'm going to mispronounce the word radiation or something of that nature. It's been a long time since I completed my doctorate, but forests emit particles, if you will. They basically are saying, "Come water me." It's all part of the bizarre evolutionary dynamics of our planet. If you've got a massive landscape, mountainside, for instance, and this part forced it and this part is not, the tendency will be for approaching rain clouds to head towards the forested area. It doesn't mean the other won't get rain. It just means that they're more drawn to this. It's really a fascinating consideration.

For what it's worth, when it rains on a healthy forest, the forest absorbs a large percentage of that water. Some of it obviously drips down and forms streams and rivers and mitigates flooding, but a large percentage over time will also evaporate back up and pass on to the next ecosystem in rain over there as well. If you rain on a deforested area, you get erosion. You get flooding. There's no subsequent evaporation and passing onto the next system.

We've got to understand how important the world's forests are to everyone in so many ways. It's amazing.

Christina Louie Dyer:

Yeah, absolutely. I had no idea. Oh, I'm going to be doing some reading this weekend about forests. It's fascinating. Thank you for sharing that with us. Wonderful. And then kind of, again, taking us in a similar direction along these environmental impacts, you mentioned the carbon sequestration and kind of how forests can help us with that. I know that this is coming up a lot in my area in terms of sustainability and how corporations are starting to think about, okay, what are the partnerships that we should be making? How should we be thinking about our own footprint? What are we responsible for?

And then how do we actually start to think about our impacts and how we actually have a more positive impact versus negative? I know you work with a number of corporate partners. I'm curious, in those conversations, in addition to these environmental impacts, how are companies also talking about their partnership with you and helping them to meet these business goals that they have?

Dr. Steve Fitch:

Well, really good question, because obviously it's not just boring data. We planted this many trees and blah, blah, blah, and this much carbon is sequestered, or that sort of thing. It's a fascinating story that emerges over time and it starts with you have the opportunity to make a significant socioeconomic impact on this local community. You get to tell that story and it's Eden responsibility, our marketing department, is to supply the visual collateral, the written collateral to help you tell your story. And then, of course, it expands into the combined mission.

These are the species that we're going to plant. We're going to start with the pioneer species and here's the list of trees. And then over time, nature kicks in. Through natural regeneration, you have just a proliferation of species that show up, if you will, because again, we cooperate with nature and nature is our best ally. It's all about helping you tell a really compelling story that is multifaceted and heartwarming and inspiring.

Christina Louie Dyer:

Absolutely. I will say, as one of your corporate partners, I have continuously been amazed at the stories that you all are telling and how easy you make it for us to be able to tell those stories and can share the work that you all are doing. I definitely can echo that that is a huge benefit and the opportunity to really, again, kind of meld that branding and really wanted to make sure that we're, we're still highlighting your work. This is not about law. We're grateful to be your partner, but we want to continuously bring to light the work that you all are doing.

On that note, I appreciate you talking about how businesses can talk about that, the benefits of corporations partnering. What is success for Eden? How do we help you more? What does a successful partnership look like in order to help you all better continue to meet your mission?

Dr. Steve Fitch:

This may diverge a bit from your question, but without Lob and the other corporate groups, Eden cannot fulfill its mission. In the early days of Eden, it was angel donors is what they're called. They were my friends, my family, my contacts. Most nonprofit organizations stopped growing because that's the limit of the founder's relational web and resources. But when we stumbled into this partnership concept, more groups like Lob began to show up and being able to, if you will, monetize your compassion and your mission is the genius behind it. Because for every item or whatever your product is you sell, you plant one or two or 10, however many trees.

But that also is, of course, coupled to the reality is you're providing employment to somebody who produces plants and protects those trees. And so,

Lob's been at the forefront. You were doing it before you were prodded to do it. You chose to do it.

Thank you. So important.

Christina Louie Dyer:

Absolutely. I couldn't agree with you more. I feel like... Again, I love that I get to be in the social impact and sustainability space, but what I have seen is that it's no longer just a person or a team, but that companies are starting to say, "Okay, what do we need to do more broadly? What is our responsibility as an organization?" It's no longer just, okay, there's one person thinking about a niche project, and then you're going to go tackle it.

It's really about how do we as corporations build this into what we do, how do we encourage our employees and their networks to also take action.

I love, again, this partnership that we've been able to establish because 100% I can always stand behind the fact that when we are working with Eden or when dollars are going towards Eden, just knowing that there is just incredible impact and the transparency that you all have had has just been so fantastic. I appreciate working with us over these years. I encourage other folks, please, please take a look at Eden. We are happy to chat with you too. We want to be able to share more about the work that you're doing and bring in more companies, right? I agree. We're all in this together. At the end of the day... Absolutely, right? We're all in this together. Absolutely want to continue to grow this work.

Steve, thank you so much for your time today. I am just continuously, as I said earlier, inspired by the work that you do. I'm proud that we get to be a partner. Every time I hear more about the work, I just am so inspired with the way that you are focusing on communities first, but yet there are all these incredible environmental benefits as well. I'm excited to see Eden and the communities you work with continue to grow. For folks that are joining us today, if you are interested in learning more about how you can get involved with Eden Reforestation Projects, visit EdenProjects.org. Is that correct, Steve?

Dr. Steve Fitch:

Yes.

Christina Louie Dyer:

Perfect. Please take a look at their site. If you are interested in learning more about direct mail automation and how you can send mail in a carbon neutral way, or if you want to learn more about how we're partnering with Eden and chat more about what that looks like for our company, again, please feel free to reach out to us at Lob.com. But Steve, thank you so much.

Dr. Steve Fitch:

Thank you. Can I close with one thought?

Christina Louie Dyer:

Yes, please.

Dr. Steve Fitch:

You said the work that you do, meaning me, I'd like you to consider changing your language. The work that we collectively do.

Christina Louie Dyer:

I like that.

Dr. Steve Fitch:

Because without Lob, Eden can't do its middle part, which is keeping in mind the real work is taking place with those thousands and thousands of thousands of people who are producing, planting, and protecting the forest.

It's this global commitment to companies, Eden, the employees globally, that we're all working together and seeing a huge impact. It's us, not me.

Christina Louie Dyer:

I love it. The work that we collectively do, and we are welcome grateful to be a part of. Yes, I will work on that language, Steve. I appreciate that correction. Again, thank you so much for your time today.

Dr. Steve Fitch:

Great to be here and thank you.

Sustaining sustainability in direct mail

Our partnership with Eden Reforestation Projects is an important part of our eco-conscious efforts, but it's not the only step we're taking to be more environmentally-friendly. We also ensure all of the printers in our network work with Forest Stewardship Council-certified stock paper, as well as use paper stock that contains at least 10% post-consumer waste pulp fiber to save water, power, and reduce waste.

Minimize the environmental impact of your direct mail campaigns by sending your mail through Lob.

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