Valuing Trees And Tree Workers

July-August 2011

ONE URBAN FORESTER SAID he had lots of money from his council to plant trees but almost nothing to maintain those same trees. “We are just replanting in the same spots each year.” 

I asked: “How did you approach your council?”

He replied, “I haven’t been to council. That isn’t my job.”

I couldn’t think of a polite way to say, “What do you mean it isn’t your job? How can you complain, if you haven’t tried?” I nicely ended the interview and decided it was time to look in another direction. 

As I see it, the main problem arborists and foresters are facing is requesting money. Whether you are asking a municipal council for budget dollars or making a sales pitch to a private customer, the principles are the same. You are selling a product. Just as an auto sales person sells both a means of transportation and a personal image, arborists are selling tree care and a healthy environment. 

Yes, we need to plant more trees, but to add value to the industry and protect the urban forest we need to preserve trees from year one to maturity. Sonia Garth, Public Relations with ISA, explained, “People need to understand the importance of maintaining trees to help ensure their longevity therefore receiving the maximum benefits they can provide.”

Bringing it closer to home, one urban forester answered my budget request question quite simply, “Ask McNeil [John McNeil, Town of Oakville]. He has money. How does he get it? My township would never put so much in the budget for trees.” 

“Why not?” I asked. He couldn’t answer. He hadn’t asked the township the question. 

I called John McNeil’s office. He didn’t have time to talk this month. He is busy spending the money he asked his council to budget for tree care. That was all the response I needed. Because he got the money, particularly in times of budget constraints, proves he did the most important task – asked for the money. He was timely and appropriate and his council believes trees have real value. I am only guessing, but I expect he was the one to prove trees have real value.

What the Money Pros Say
I contacted Norman Lieberman, “The Pay Raise Coach,” to learn HOW to ask for money ( Norman inadvertently highlighted a real problem. “I am a bit out of my element on this one. I work with office professionals, so I am out of my league regarding the environment. Sorry, I couldn’t be more helpful.”

In our society, many white collar professionals (you know the ones, they regularly gross well over six figures) take courses and training on how to make money. The rest of us just keep going to work each day, often working with less and taking home less. Those who make six figures don’t always work harder. They work at making and asking for money. If you want or need more money, the secret is to know how to ask. As the importance of this concept is pretty wide-ranging, from municipal arborists asking town councils to commercial arborists asking their clients to absolutely anyone who wants to receive more value for their work, I thought I’d delve into it a bit deeper.

No one is born knowing how to ask for money. For many of us, our only training in asking for a salary increase, funding, or explaining how we bill for our time and services was asking for our allowance as kids. Unless your parents ran the home as a business, your training was most likely insufficient. A concentrated search on the internet revealed no one is training tree care professionals on how to “ask for a raise” (or how to charge more for your services). 

The result is that tree care professionals are, on average, an underpaid and under appreciated service and thus have a lot to learn from those six figure white collar professionals. 

Noting Pain Points
Despite his lack of experience with arborists, Lieberman did offer some valuable advice: “I feel that tree specialists can demonstrate value the same as any great business person. They need to speak about their services from the potential client’s perspective. Talk about the pain points that the client will experience by having fewer trees. Write articles on how trees impact our lives and health on a daily basis. Like air, we take vegetation for granted. But, we do so at our own peril. Ask questions such as ‘Do you have a loved one suffering from asthma? With fewer trees, asthma rates have been increasing.’ Your market has to feel the pain before they’ll appreciate the benefit. Pain points automatically create value by showing the hurt we will all suffer with fewer trees and then show that arborists are the solution to this environmental tragedy.” 

On Leiberman’s website, he suggests starting to learn how to ask for more money by identifying why you aren’t asking for more. First, ask yourself the following question: Do you feel your services are worth more money? (This is not: Should your company charge more than the certified arborist working down the street? We are discussing should arborists (guardians of the tree environment) in general, receive higher pay and be provided larger budgets then they currently receive?) More specific questions include: Do you need better equipment? Do your employees need more education? Do you need more money to pay for these items?

With respect to the big question, if you honestly believe arborists aren’t worth more money, consider why not and what can you do to increase the value of your work? Do you work as a professional? Do you show up on time and leave on time? Are your equipment and truck well maintained and clean? Are your safety gear and clothing in good repair and as clean as is reasonable? Do you leave the site better then you found it? Do you maintain your education and professional standing? Recognizing that your job contains risks, do you work hard to minimize these? If you answer all these questions with “yes” then you are a professional and should be paid as such. 

Step two. If you still don’t want to ask for more money, consider another of Lieberman’s suggestions: identify why you aren’t asking for more money. Are you afraid? Are you afraid to hear “no.” Are you afraid to not get the job? Are you afraid you are not worthy? Are you afraid of bragging? Are you afraid of not knowing how to respond to a low pay offer? Are you afraid you don’t know how to negotiate? Honest answers will identify your marketing weakness. Find your weakness and deal with it. 

Here are some quick and easy “rules” to remember while preparing to negotiate. Timing is everything. You don’t ask your spouse for x#@ when she has a headache (notice I didn’t say “he”…) and you don’t ask for money unless the timing is right. For example, your best bargaining time is often before you accept a new job. First, make sure the employer/client wants the job done. Second, prove you are in demand. (Do not look desperate to get the job or make the sales pitch too heavy.) Do not get emotional. Do not make it personal. Plan ahead. Be positive and committed. Be persistent and be realistic. 

Being realistic is an important point to highlight. What now seems like a lifetime ago, my boss asked me to complete pay raise forms for our corporate head office. The forms broke my job duties down into things like “hazards” (e.g. do you climb trees and do things others would consider risky?). At the end, I was convinced it indicated I was due for a huge pay raise. However, knowing it was a government job and the budget was tight, I altered the form to ask for only a small raise. My boss questioned the validity of my answers. She then changed my answers back to the originals and requested a huge raise for both of us. Guess who was laid off? Guess who got the huge increase? She proved her value by proving the value of our department, but the budget couldn’t pay for both of us. 

Proving Real Value
Asking for money is never a one step event but the priority must be on proving the value of your work to your employer (or in the case of tree service workers, to society) over time. As an arborist, your work is not only as valuable as a single tree, it has value for the entire urban forest, in actual fact, for the global climate. It all comes down to perspective. By increasing the perceived value of your work and considering a larger focus, you increase the potential value of your budget. 

Any forester can tell you at a glance the commercial value of a tree. Lots of knots it’s firewood; for clear wood, the value is higher and measured in board feet. However, if you are talking to a homeowner or municipal council, you should be talking about air and water quality. Discuss real estate and home heating/cooling prices with customers. Talk about storm water management. 

Now we’re getting to the proof, the real supporting evidence. As professionals we need to review current literature that both supports and detracts from the value of trees. We need to know more than just the study’s conclusions, but how the results were obtained. 

Kathleen Wolf, a researcher at the University of Washington, is acutely aware of this. Her work involves reviewing tree research. One of the sites she contributes to regularly started in 2008 and should be complete by 2012. It is well worth spending some time reviewing. Visit

Wolf said, “As a social scientist, I have been personally familiar with an extensive ‘vein’ of scientifically derived findings about the health and well-being benefits of nearby nature in cities. I wanted to 1) ‘reveal’ this realm of evidence to professionals and managers; 2) provide a go-to reference place as published research is distributed across journals of many disciplines and can be difficult to access; and 3) elevate public awareness about why we need access to nature in our cities, rather than parks and gardens being expendable amenities when public decision-makers make tough budget cut decisions.”

Wolf continued that her team includes research from around the world because: “The urban environment is quite similar and the human experience within is quite similar throughout the world so research in other places probably transfers across nations and continents.” Also, “the science community is a global one with active sharing that has never been limited by place. Good work is happening in other countries and can yield important evidence and insights that apply to the circumstances of North American cities.”

Wolf has undertaken a monumental task that will be of great benefit to arborists. With so much material, the Green Health website is long, really long, however, it is organized into headings making it quick and easy to sort to your specific topic of interest. Headings include: Safe Streets, Mental Function and Health, Active Living, Crimes and Fear, Community, Economics, and more. 

Remembering Lieberman, The Pay Raise Coach’s advice to talk about pain points, the day after I reviewed the Green Health site I was speaking to a professional in Toronto who was concerned about crime in the entrance to an inner city development. Hearing her “pain point” was crime, I cut and pasted the section on crime from the Green Health website and emailed it to her. Within an hour she responded that she was taking it to her board and going to request plantings. I did not send her the entire site. It is too long for a busy professional. I only had to click a computer mouse and send her the portion that applied to her pain point and told her the rest was available if she needed more information. 

The Green Health site is one of the easiest and clearest internet sites on tree value I have found. Each section starts with a short explanation of how trees affect that aspect of urban living. It then reviews current research and finally lists and credits the researchers and publishers. It is easy to understand and has photos to break up the heavy script. 

I now have the evidence from the Green Health website in the section related to tree car crash studies to intelligently discuss trees and motor vehicle accidents. I know most of the studies are related to high speed through fares, not urban streets. I can separate out just the studies about “livable” roads and show how landscaped roads have fewer accidents with fewer injuries. (This includes a Toronto downtown study where they found a decrease of five to twenty percent in mid block crashes in areas with improved landscaping while during the same time period in the rest of the city there was an increase in mid block crashes.) At the same time, I know never to recommend planting a tree at an intersection. 

The Mental Function and Health section is also full of information I can use to prove trees have value. It states city life dulls our thinking and is mentally exhausting. Brief glimpses of natural elements provide mental health breaks. When I hear someone has a “pain point” about concentration (a hyper child, an exam, low employee work production), I can prove natural elements will improve both attention and retention rates. For example, when plants were added to a college computer lab, reaction times increased by twelve percent. 

Barbara Heidenreich of the Ontario Urban Forest Council produced a short document on the value of trees. She divided it into sections that on their own make great handouts. The first two pages are an easy-to-read listing of “services from trees.” This is a great point form listing that could be used if you are giving a talk on the value of trees. A “pain point” highlighted includes storm water. “Flash flooding can be dramatically reduced by a forest or by planting trees. One mature spruce, either planted or grown wild, can intercept more then 1,000 gallons of water annually.” 

We can also remind people who don’t have water troubles that the tree next door should be thanked. In a hot summer when we hear complaints about the cost of hydro, we can use Heidenreich’s reminder that “studies have shown that parts of cities without cooling shade from trees can literally be ‘heat islands’ with temperatures as much as 12 degrees higher then surrounding areas.”

Heidenreich also has a great one-page chart on the value of trees. And she lists where she got the research data. Other great places for data on proving the value of trees are:

Another great article I discovered was at For anyone with a “pain point” about city water control, they have an article on “Green Parking” and discuss on site storm water management. In other words, if the water falls on your parking lot, you can manage it without channeling it off to town sewers. They say, “Turn common grey parking lots into environmental machines working for cities.” And the trick is to use permeable paving and protect trees as opposed to plant saplings. This article doesn’t talk directly about the value of trees, instead it proves the value by showing how trees can work for cities. 

Sudbury: Moonscape to Greenscape
An extreme example of a city that convinced its residents to value trees and maintains that value is the City of Sudbury. Sudbury became infamous as a “moonscape” after years of mining and tree death. Dr. Stephen Monet, Manager Environmental Planning Initiatives, said it isn’t hard to convince people that trees have value nor is it hard to keep the momentum going. He explained there are two things to watch for: First, grab opportunities as they arise and second, prove scientifically that the ideas work. 

One opportunity Sudbury grabbed was when the Pope visited Canada in 2002. Thousands of people arrived from around the world to see the Pope and many wanted to leave a lasting legacy in Canada. Sudbury put these individuals to work spreading lime and planting trees. Another opportunity was grabbed during periods of low employment. Sudbury placed federal and provincial dollars in job creation programs and again, people were put to work planting and spreading lime. Sudbury successfully used public pain and needs to regreen and keep the community interested until their moonscape became a greenscape. 

Monet explained that when they started the program people knew trees had value but they needed to see Sudbury could be regreened and they needed to be educated on how it could be done. The regreening program began at the major entrances to the city. People saw the trees grow and they wanted to contribute. A drive through the city today shows the beauty and diversity of the urban forest. Individuals are now planting and maintaining private lands. Many groups, businesses and schools continue to ask for training. Once training is provided, the groups are grateful and offer continued support towards the city’s regreening efforts.  

Over the decades, Sudbury planted only four types of conifers. Aspen, birch and other species spread naturally. The city now has tree cover but it isn’t time to relax or let the momentum slow. To ensure progress wasn’t stalled, they did a study on human health and ecological risks (both are pain points across the province). The results showed that for Sudbury’s forest to be healthy, it needed an understory. 

Once again, Sudbury got citizens involved doing community monitoring – this time they highlighted the status of whippoorwills and other species to show the seriousness of the problem. They also grabbed another opportunity when it was noted that local Highway 69 was being widened. The understory from the highway land was moved and placed in four by four mats around the regenerated forest. Because the forest floor mats were measured and laid out scientifically, they secured university support to monitor their condition and progress. Because they got the community involved yet again, they have maintained momentum for the program.

The Small Village in The City
Back in Toronto, I spoke with Alex Ling, Past President of the Business Improvement Association for Bloor West Village, on a completely unrelated topic. He actually called me up short saying as a group that they aren’t interested in trees. “We are interested in making money.” That said, the association has just backed the installation of a new concrete product for their sidewalks at three times the cost of traditional concrete. The fact that a business association is willing to pay substantially more to make the area more “green” proves trees have value even to those whose stated goal is to make money. Ling said, “Our brand is the small village in the city. We are famous for our street of lights (LED lights powered by solar energy strung in the trees). Dead trees are not good. Come and visit us! We will have a brand new street by fall.”

Research & Education Pay in Dividends
When all business associations, municipalities and schools know trees have real economic value, your job will be easier. Until then, there is a mountain of data you can access to prove we need trees in our urban areas as much as we need sewers and underground infrastructure. 

I’ll give the last word to Kathleen Wolf. She said, “Many local government units describe their tree and parks programs as contributing to the ‘beautification’ of a community. That term doesn’t adequately capture all the amazingly valuable benefits that nature provides in cities. Research of the past decade reveals an important array of social, environmental and economic benefits – things that we didn’t even imagine a short while ago. That’s why nearby nature in cities should be planned, conserved and managed.”

And when you prove the value of trees, arborists and urban foresters will hopefully get the necessary funds to do the job correctly the first time – and keep channeling money into important projects. The only way to ensure this happens is to speak up. Ask for respect. Ask for assistance in making healthier communities on all measurable and some immeasurable levels. Ask for the money.

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