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TD Bank issued a report on September 24, 2014, providing an economic valuation of urban forests in the greater Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver areas, estimating that these forests contain more than 100 million trees which carry an estimated worth of $51 billion (Halifax: $11.5B; Montreal: $4.5B; Vancouver: $35B). TD claims that for each dollar spent on maintenance of these trees, between $1.88 and $12.70 in benefits are realized each year, depending on the city.

For example, the TD report claims that the largest benefit to Montreal from its urban forest is the cover from wet weather and the reduced strain such weather puts on infrastructure. Trees also help to reduce the city’s water treatment bill by over 4% each year. The report also claims that the energy savings provided by Montreal’s urban forest is enough to pay for more than 1,000 household annual energy bills.

For Vancouver, the report states that its urban forests remove more than 10% of the carbon monoxide released each year by major industries in the region, and close to 90% of nitrogen dioxide emissions. “Together with wet-weather flow benefits, the urban forest provides over $210 million in benefits annually.”

The TD report comes as a follow-up to its June 2014 publication in which TD valued Toronto’s urban forests at $7 billion, or about $700 per tree. We previously blogged on the Toronto study, indicating that the valuation of environmental resources has potential drawbacks, but even TD acknowledged that its valuation efforts are only low-ball estimates that cannot take into account aesthetic, cultural or spiritual values.

Why is TD studying the value of urban forests? TD is frank in the FAQs it posts on its website: in 2012, it conducted a survey of its clients and customers, and found that more than 90% of those surveyed indicated that environmental issues were important and that forests were in need of protection.

Even if TD is studying these issues only to appeal to environmentally-conscious clients and customers, the reason doesn’t seem as important as the fact that they are doing it. And while some might find the valuation of environmental resources as distasteful or dangerous, it is one way to get polar interest groups in society speaking the same language, or at least sharing a conversation. For example, conservation groups have used computer modelling to show that B.C.’s old growth forests are worth more standing than for logging. Talking about the value of environmental benefits is really just the flip-side of valuing the costs of environmental degradation; the true costs of deforestation or dirty energy. We applaud corporations for directing resources to environmental conservation efforts that do not directly affect their bottom lines. It shows the true power or ability of the marketplace to harness great resources for social good.

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