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Making a Big Impact, Small Footprint

Duke and Delta Airlines Team Up For Innovative Offsets Program, and You Can Help

Duke student Tamanna Srivastava, center, plants a tree with the help of Keep Durham Beautiful volunteers and children from Durham's Northbrook neighborhood.
Duke student Tamanna Srivastava, center, plants a tree with the help of Keep Durham Beautiful volunteers and children from Durham's Northbrook neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Keep Durham Beautiful.

On a chilly, clear Saturday afternoon in January, nearly 20 volunteers took to the streets of Durham’s Northbrook neighborhood with bright, green safety vests and shovels.

Splitting up into teams, the group planted 50 young trees along the neighborhood’s streets.

“At a certain point, it was hard to feel my hands,” said Duke student Tamanna Srivastava, who volunteered at the event organized by the Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative and Keep Durham Beautiful. “… But it was extremely fun. It was a really positive atmosphere, and everyone seemed really into planting.”

Srivastava, a first-year student, said her favorite memory from the day was when two children rode up on bikes, curious about what the volunteers were doing. Before long, they were helping hold trees as volunteers placed them into the ground.

While the fun of the event came from volunteers getting their hands dirty while getting to know their city, the day was one part of an innovative sustainability partnership with a far-reaching impact.

In a first-of-its-kind sustainability program, Duke University and Delta Airlines recently announced the purchase of 5,000 carbon credits. A single carbon credit is equal to one metric ton of carbon dioxide being removed from the air, so the purchase is enough to offset the emissions for the 7 million miles of Duke’s business and athletic travel with Delta in 2017. With help from Greensboro-based Urban Offsets, the program also backs efforts to create a more equitable distribution of urban forests in Durham with tree plantings that will further remove carbon emissions as they grow.

The program fits with Duke’s goals of being carbon neutral by 2024 and strengthening its bonds with the Durham community.

“This is a great example of the type of carbon offset project we’re interested in,” said Duke University Executive Vice President Tallman Trask. “Rather than seeking out the cheapest available carbon credits, we’re continuing to invest in projects with multiple benefits for our community in North Carolina.”

As part of the program, Duke and Delta covered the cost of 1,000 trees used in Durham’s urban forestry efforts during the 2017-18 planting season. Approximately half of the trees will be planted in neighborhoods that a 2016 survey by Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment found to have insufficient tree cover due to red-lining policies of the 1930s.

The trees, which are planted by volunteers, lead to higher property values, provide shade to reduce energy bills during hot summer months, and improve air quality for nearby residents.

“I think this is an incredible partnership and a creative way of meeting the goals that Duke University has and the goals that Keep Durham Beautiful and the city of Durham have to get more trees planted in public spaces and try to maintain the canopy that we have,” said Tania Dautlick, executive director of Keep Durham Beautiful.

Thus far this winter, roughly 600 trees have already been planted in Durham. But there still plenty more that need to get in the ground before planting season ends in March.

With two more DCOI planting events scheduled for February 10th and February 24th, there are plenty of opportunities left for members of the Duke and Durham communities to lend a hand.