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Keyword: strategic tree planting

Baltimore County Cool Treesby Vincent J. Gardina
 Director of Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability

Imagine if you invented a simple, low-cost, low-tech piece of equipment that could lower energy costs, absorb air pollution and soak up stormwater runoff. Imagine if this invention was also beautiful, cool, could be placed almost anywhere and actually raised property values and people’s sense of community. You guessed it – I’m talking about trees.

Everyone knows that planting trees helps the environment in a number of ways, but did you know that strategic tree planting actually cuts energy costs in buildings? The Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (EPS) recently completed a project to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data to optimize the planting of trees around County buildings as an affordable technique to cool buildings as well as contributing to a better local environment.  

The “Cool Trees” program planted 957 native shade trees at 46 County schools, eight police precincts/PAL centers, seven community centers, five senior centers, all three CCBC campuses, two libraries, two fire stations, and one health center. By planting trees within sixty feet of the south, west and east facades of buildings, the energy needed for cooling will be reduced by 30%. In a unique approach, EPS used GIS software to evaluate data about all County buildings, schools and CCBC buildings and identify the best locations as well as the precise spots to plant the trees to maximize energy savings.

Over just the next 30 years, the $500,000 invested in Cool Trees will provide more than $2 million in benefits, a 300% return on investment. Funded through a $7.4 million U.S. Department of Energy Grant, the goal of this grant is to reduce energy consumption and create jobs. Over the next 30 years, the $500,000 invested in Cool Trees is estimated to provide in excess of $2 million worth of energy savings and other environmental benefits – a 300% return on investment.

We chose the name “Cool Trees” because trees are cool, as in nifty, dandy, keen and marvelous. They are also cool as in temperature reducing. If every household in Baltimore County planted a native species large canopy tree within sixty feet of the south, west or east facades of their homes, energy consumption could be reduced by 30% during the summer, and water flowing to the Bay would be cleaner and more healthy for aquatic life. Plant a tree, save energy, reduce stormwater runoff and be COOL!


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