A city skyline with trees in a grassy park.
Trees in Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City © Kevin Arnold


Investing in City Trees Can Help Save Lives and Millions of Dollars in Health Expenditures

Collaboration between urban planners and conservationists is crucial to face significant health challenges in a creative and innovative way.

Washington, D.C.

A new report by The Nature Conservancy, in collaboration with Analysis Group and Trust for Public Land, finds that trees and other natural features in cities can help regulate water quality and quantity, reduce harmful air pollutants, and boost local economies.  By creating new incentives for investing in urban nature, cities can help address health challenges more effectively, helping save lives, and potentially saving millions of dollars to taxpayers.

American cities lose 4 million trees every year (1.3 percent of the nation’s total urban tree stock). Yet, new tree planting isn’t keeping pace with this kind of loss.

Despite scientific research that shows that city trees can have a significant impact on public health, reducing cardiac and respiratory diseases intensified by air pollution, as well as alleviating the consequences of extreme summer heat and mental stress, the challenge has been for planners and policy makers to allocate resources effectively to bring these natural benefits to people.

Funding Trees for Health explores how cities can use innovative finance and policy tools to enable tree planting for public health given that urban trees are vital for people’s health.

“American cities currently spend less than a third of a percent of overall municipal budgets to maintain or increase their tree coverage,” said Robert McDonald, The Nature Conservancy lead scientist for Cities and a report author.  “Spending just $8 per person could meet the funding gap and allow cities to plant and maintain enough city trees to benefit public health, potentially reducing millions to taxpayers.  City trees cannot be viewed as a luxury, but an essential component of a healthy, livable community and a core strategy for improving public health.”

The report focuses on the benefits of trees for public health to provide specific guidance for planners and policy makers.   These include linking funding for trees and parks to health goals and objectives, as well as implementing policies to incentivize private tree planting.  Additionally, breaking down municipal silos would facilitate collaboration between different departments, such as public health and environmental agencies with city developers and planners.  An example would be allowing for codes to set minimum open space or maximum building lot coverage ratios for new developments.  Investing time and effort in educating the public about the tangible public health benefits and economic impact of trees would be another key call to action for cities and towns. 

“When you consider the benefits that street trees can provide to society, there is a strong business case for increasing investment,” said McDonald.  “After analyzing 27 major American cities we found that each one could save at least $25 million annually in pollution-related lost work and healthcare costs just by planting more urban trees and maintaining existing tree coverage.”

According to Planting Healthy Air, a global study released in 2016 by The Nature Conservancy, there is scientific evidence of the benefits of city trees and their cost-effectiveness to reduce urban heat and pollution.  City populations grow and are projected to reach 2 of every 3 people on Earth in the coming decades.

To see the full report, an executive summary and additional resources, please visit nature.org/trees4health.


Analysis Group is one of the largest private economics consulting firms, with more than 800 professionals across 13 offices in North America, Europe, and Asia. Since 1981, we have provided expertise in economics, health care analytics, finance and strategy to Fortune Global 500 companies, top law firms, and government agencies worldwide. Our internal experts, together with our network of affiliated experts from academia, industry, and government, offer our clients exceptional breadth and depth of expertise. To learn more, visit www.analysisgroup.com

The Trust for Public Land
The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live near a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit 

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.