Cool Green Trees Program

The Cool Green Trees program is built on a passion for planting trees in a changing world. We are taking action to mitigate climate change and to advance environmental justice. We are working on local change that will affect the health of generations to come.

Cool Green Trees plants the right trees in the right place. We nurture these young trees to become healthy adults — as well as the people who live alongside them.

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“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
Chinese proverb

Our Story

Using natural, “green” solutions makes sense to people who have seen them work. We have been working with local government, neighborhoods, nonprofits, and social/environmental partners for years to bring all the benefits of trees back into urban places. Human health remains the most important benefit from healthy, native trees. With our new program, we have the chance to make that change at a larger scale.

The Cool Green plan was developed over a two-year period to identify and prioritize areas in Jefferson County where present and future extreme heat will most affect human health. The results of this investigation clearly show that low-income neighborhoods are most affected by extreme heat, especially those with a history of “redlining” during post-war real estate evaluation. These “urban heat islands” have minimal tree canopy, high summer nighttime temperatures, lots of impervious surfaces, and poor respiratory health.

Living in a southern city that suffered from redlining real estate practices, black Birmingham residents were often relegated to low-lying lands that were regularly flooded by stormwater and often contaminated by nearby industry. Planting trees was not a priority. Being located close to industry in treeless areas left communities vulnerable to excessive heat, flooding, and illness.

With collaboration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), we used the Environmental Protection Agency’s EnviroAtlas health data to create a GIS StoryMap for our Cool Green Action Plan, in order to make the case for using trees to cool and clean the city.

Cool Green collaborators looked closely at priority areas that could benefit from Green Infrastructure, such as spaces for new young forests and natural “sponges” to slow stormwater runoff. Healthy trees create the triple natural benefit of absorbing stormwater, cleaning the air, and lowering summer nighttime heat.

After creating a GIS StoryMap, the group’s next step was to raise both funds and public interest to plant trees in those high-risk areas. Slated to begin in winter 2020, community outreach and conversations were halted by the social disruption of the coronavirus pandemic.

Our mission is to improve the environment and community through planting trees.

Our vision is to plant trees to mitigate the negative effects of urban heat islands, stormwater runoff, and air pollution to uplift the community, economy, and health of Jefferson County, Alabama.

Small Victories

East Lake Park
In 2018, our interest in growing new young forests led to the East Lake Park project. We planted two pilot projects to reforest aging shade trees in the north end of East Lake Park, the largest park in the City of Birmingham. Partners planted over 130 native trees grown from local seed sources to study urban reforestation. Both “young forest” locations are thriving.

UAB Grand Challenge Partner
From 2020 through 2022, we partnered with the UAB Live HealthSmart Alabama program in three neighborhood demonstration areas: Titusville, Kingston, and East Lake. Planting trees on 1st Street South in Titusville transformed the streetscape and softened the right-of-way to help calm traffic. The main park in Kingston, Stockham Park, now has three rows of young trees as a sight and noise barrier for the park from the nearby railroad line and industrial park. In 2022, we planted new street trees on Division Avenue in East Lake to shelter the main traffic and pedestrian route to the local grocery store.

The World Games 2022
As the lead sustainability contractor for The World Games 2022, Cawaco planted 171 trees. In December 2021, we partnered with The World Games 2022 and Vulcan Materials Company to plant 80 trees in the Village Creek floodplain within the East Thomas neighborhood and 60 trees around the perimeter of Legion Field Stadium. Over 60 people attended the volunteer event, including East Thomas Neighborhood Association, The World Games staff, Vulcan Materials, Keep Birmingham Beautiful, Birmingham Water Works, the Alabama House of Representatives, and Birmingham City Council. We also funded an additional 31 trees planted on 20th Street in a high-traffic area of downtown Birmingham.