10 US CITIES:The Urban Forest as Health Care Infrastructure

The Urban Forest as Health Care Infrastructure

A Potential Application for NegaRevenue

A September 2017 report by the Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land describes the strong links between urban forests and health outcomes. A U.S. Forest Service-funded study of 10 U.S. cities found that the presence of urban trees has the potential to remove enough pollution to reduce annual health costs significantly, from $1.1 million (Syracuse) to $60.1 million (New York). Trees can also protect public health by mitigating extreme summer temperatures, a phenomenon that is expected to increase with climate-related warming. Urban forests have also been shown to have other benefits to mental and physical health.

What if some of the savings from avoided health care costs and work losses (from illness) could be used to fund planting and maintenance of urban forest? Tapping public health savings usually presents what impact investors call a “wrong pockets” problem. The benefits of park and forest projects may be experienced in lowered health care expenditures, but they may be difficult to track precisely, and will likely be enjoyed by a different department than the one responsible for street tree planting. Still, there may be a role for an outcomes-based financing via impact investment, if the holistic benefits of urban forests can be monetized and used to repay it.

Reprinted, with permission, from “Funding Trees for Health: An Analysis of Finance and Policy Actions to Enable Planting Trees for Public Health,” the Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land, and Analysis Group, 2017.