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. Photo courtesy of Keep Durham Beautiful.

In a first-of-its-kind sustainability project, Duke University’s Carbon Offsets Initiative (DCOI) and Delta Air Lines recently announced the purchase of 5,000 ‘bundled’ carbon offsets. A single carbon offset is equal to one metric ton of carbon dioxide being removed from the air. ’Bundled’ offsets involve pairing locally impactful tree planting projects with purchases of offset credits to both build local resilience to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The purchase is enough to offset the emissions for the 7 million miles of Duke’s business and athletic travel with Delta in 2017. Facilitated by Greensboro-based Urban Offsets, the project backs efforts to create a more equitable distribution of urban forests in Durham by planting trees in neighborhoods that have been historically underserved. The project will also help Duke accomplish its 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 project, the DCOI and Delta sponsored Durham’s urban forestry efforts during the 2017-18 planting season to plant 1,000 trees and improve tree maintenance. These efforts will combat the trend of disappearing canopy cover in urban forests across the United States. Approximately half of the trees will be planted in neighborhoods that a 2016 master’s project by MEM/MF’s Gregory Cooper, Anne Liberti and Michael Asch, 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 that reduces energy bills during hot summer months, and improve air quality for nearby residents, among other benefits that trees provide for communities.

“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.

Nearly 20 Duke students, alumni, staff and Durham community members assisted with this effort during a volunteer planting event on January 13th that saw 50 trees go in the ground. Thus far this winter, roughly 600 trees have already been planted in Durham. But there are still plenty more that need to be planted before the 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. The first takes place in the Northbrook Neighborhood on Saturday, February 10 and the second is slated for Saturday, February 24 in the Walltown Neighborhood. Volunteers are welcome.


Story authored by Tani Colbert-Sangree