Guest post by Margo Bailey, Community Outreach Manager, United Nations Association of Greater Boston

Interview with Amanada Rich and David Meshoulam, Co-Founders of Speak for the Trees, Boston and Impact Hub Boston members. 

group of people outdoors smiling at camera. Speak for the Trees Impact Hub Boston coworking space membersBefore the founding of Speak for the Trees, Boston was one of the few major U.S. cities that did not have a non-profit dedicated to advocating for urban forests. Previous organizations had existed in Boston, but they came and went after struggling through leadership changes and the Great Recession.  Speak for the Trees logo - Impact Hub Boston coworking space logo

Enter Speak for the Trees Co-Founders Dr. David Meshoulam and Amanda Rich. Both cared deeply about the climate crisis and brought unique skills and backgrounds to the table. Meshoulam had worked in education for years, notably at Newton North High School as a science teacher. However, he often wanted to expand his impact outside the classroom. The topic of climate change piqued his interest, and he decided to focus specifically on trees because of their dual ability to reinvigorate public spaces socially and environmentally. Rich, who worked as a data scientist at a pharmaceutical company, wanted to use her analytical skills to help tackle the climate crisis and earned a Masters degree in Sustainability and Environmental Management from Harvard in 2017. Since 2018, the duo has been working together to “improve the size and health of the urban tree canopy in the Greater Boston area.”

What is Speak for the Trees’ value proposition for the Greater Boston community?

“Speak for the Trees (SFTT) is creating a robust network of tree advocates to help reach the City of Boston’s goal to increase the urban tree canopy coverage to 35% by 2030. Currently, Boston has a tree canopy coverage of 27% and most of the space available to plant additional trees is privately owned by residents or overseen by city and state agencies, non-profit organizations, private entities, and institutions. That means we need to build partnerships with all kinds of stakeholders…academics, residents, and national partners…and we can help the city do that with our focused programs.”

For example, SFTT holds Tree Giveaways, offering dozens of trees to residents for free. Last spring, the organization provided 50 fruit trees to residents of Dorchester and ran out of trees so quickly that they held a second event a few months later. They also began a detailed inventory of the city’s trees to share publicly and with Boston’s Department of Parks and Recreation. This inventory is made possible by training and educating community volunteers to inventory trees around the city. The data is publicly accessible at opentreemap.org/boston. Last summer SFTT started the Teen Urban Tree Corps program; 9 Boston teens dedicated their time to inventory over 5,000 trees in under-served Boston neighborhoods. With this data, the group hopes to make a case to increase green space in these communities with appropriate tree species.

There are many targets within SDG 15; which of them does Speak for the Trees focus on?

“Our work most closely relates to the following Sustainable Development Goal Targets:”

  • 15.2 By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally.
  • 15.5 Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.
  • 15.9 By 2020, integrate ecosystem and biodiversity values into national and local planning, development processes, poverty reduction strategies and accounts.

What is your second-favorite SDG and why?

David: “It really depends on the day! However, I’d say SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.”

Amanda: “SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure might be my favorite. Innovation is the only way we can achieve all of our goals and it raises two interesting questions: Can we do this? Should we do this?”

Any calls to action? How can our readers make your work more impactful?

“We have many goals for 2020 where we will need the support of the city and the community. 

  1. Inventory all of Boston’s street trees through our BranchingOut program. You can help us inventory trees by joining our Teen Urban Tree Corps (for teens) or our adult Volun-TREEr program
  2. Build our Teen Urban Tree Corps to over 30 students in the summer of 2020. As mentioned above, these students help raise tree awareness by inventorying the size, species and location of thousands of trees. 
  3. Give away over 1,000 trees to local residents through our Tree Giveaways. You can help us give away more trees to deserving communities by donating here.”