Idea Sketch: Carbon League of America

Carbon dioxide molecule
Courtesy of Royalty Free Vectors by Meggi - Vectorstock 21149685
Carbon dioxide molecule
Courtesy of Royalty Free Vectors by Meggi – Vectorstock 21149685

Local groups organized through employers get together to plant trees. The groups make up a larger national network called the Carbon League of America that as whole would represent a massive endeavor to capture carbon that people have pumped into the atmosphere since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. A 2019 research project by the Crowther Lab in Switzerland showed the earth has a lot of extra space for planting trees, enough to put a major dent in this accumulation. The work would extend to protecting existing forests and helping them flourish.

This would constitute as a volunteer activity that many employers already make room for in their benefits and compensation (b&c) packages. They do this because it helps them with talent attraction and retention, and gives them marketing points.

Human resources and professional organizations would be tapped to get employers involved. Existing conservation organizations would be tapped for expertise on the tree-planting activities. The League also would serve as a source of pride and inspiration, helping bring people together for a common cause at a time when one is sorely needed. The coordinated undertaking to manage covid-19 inspires renewed confidence that people can indeed work together on big things.


“We love carbon and want to capture as much of it as we can!”


The name Carbon League of America harks back to the spirit of early 20th century civic groups. This lends itself naturally to fun design at a time when there is renewed cultural interest in that era. It also of course inspires a sense of civic duty (with a dash of tongue-in-cheek humor).

Idea inception

People feel helpless at the daunting scope of the global warming problem. They know that switching to an electric vehicle and donating to environmental organizations are part of the solution, but not enough. They want to do something. Donating to an NGO is worthwhile but lacks the visceral satisfaction of getting your hands dirty. Nor does it offer a sense of community or civic duty that physical work does.

But people have jobs and responsibilities. They cannot abandon their lives to work as volunteers full time, and they can’t accept the risk that comes with launching a forward-looking business such as a local vertical farming operation or food waste collection business.

This provides an outlet for that untapped reservoir.

Office workers have another reason to get involved: It offers them a chance to get outdoors. Nearly every office worker has stared wistfully out the window on a spring day, wishing to get out there. This would offer a systematic way of doing that, while engaging in a laudable activity at the same time. We can mobilize an army of cooped-up office workers to this task.

The same appeal applies to retail and restaurant workers, health care workers, and manufacturing workers who usually work in windowless boxes.

It also would tie into employers’ efforts to promote healthier lifestyles. Healthier workers equal lower insurance costs and greater productivity.

Decentralized structure

Like so many successful civic and community groups, this league would be made up of autonomous local groups. Local chapters. No burdensome, costly organizational structure. This allows for nimble action and a degree of spontaneity.

People in other countries could pick up the idea and form “Carbon Leagues” in their areas as well.

Possible partner organizations

Professional organizations could tie with existing conservation groups and initiatives to coordinate work.

The Society for Human Resource Management: SHRM already operates through local chapters and has the b&c expertise to make it a credible voice in speaking to employers. Similar HR organizations exist that also could do this.

Marketing and PR firms: This would take a major communications effort. Firms that get involved in would get a feather in their cap and gain a greater platform for themselves. More than that, firms could take the lead in forming local chapters. They are a natural coordinating point for bringing together employers and other partners, as they have relationships with a wide cross-section of a given business community. HR and conservation groups have the know-how for the work itself, but it will take messaging and media to get this off the ground. (It doesn’t have to be a marketing firm of course. Anyone could take the lead, but marketing firms are well-positioned to do it.)

Management consulting, law, accounting, and other professional service firms: Like marketing firms, they know many employers. They provide a more efficient path to bring in more participants. Professional associations such as SBAM in Michigan also could be valuable partners. (I focus on Michigan as a starting example simply because that’s where I happen to be as I come up with this idea.)

Conservation organizations: There are plenty of organizations out there with the passion and local knowledge to plan out the specifics of the work — where to plant and how. It is possible to cause ecological harm if planting is done in slapdash fashion. They ensure the work is done smartly and that efforts don’t go to waste. Here, the Michigan Association of Conservation Districts already has a network that could be tapped for expertise.

World Economic Forum: The Forum at its 2020 Davos gathering launched, “a global initiative to grow, restore and conserve 1 trillion trees around the world”. This could be a possible source of support.

Starting point

Begin discussions with local HR and professional firms about the practical steps of incorporating such activities into b&c packages, and with local conservation experts about the practical aspects of doing the work — including costs.