This article was originally published in April 2022

In 2017, Officeworks launched Restoring Australia, a tree planting and habitat regeneration initiative that sees the company plant two trees for every one used, based on the weight of paper products purchased by Officeworks customers. It’s a symbiotic partnership with Greening Australia, which has been restoring and conserving landscapes for more than 40 years. Think large-scale tree-planting projects with the aim of rebuilding and reconnecting environments to improve biodiversity outcomes.   

Here, we chat to Ryan Swenson from Officeworks and Amy Young, Senior Project Manager with Greening Australia, about their mutual goals and environmental milestones. 

How Did Restoring Australia Come About?

The Restoring Australia tree-planting initiative focuses on areas where there are deforestation effects.

Ryan: In 2015, Officeworks set its first long-term sustainability strategy. We spoke to stakeholders – our team, customers, partners – to understand the issues that were most important to them. They spoke about the need for Officeworks to be a leader when it comes to sourcing sustainable paper and wood, given the volume we sell. We committed to transitioning all of our paper products to FSC certified or made from 100% recycled material by 2020. Beyond that we really wanted to look at how we make a positive impact. That’s what led us to developing Restoring Australia – whereby we plant two trees for every one that is used in the paper products that a customer purchases from us. 

It’s more than just a tree-planting project; it’s a land restoration program. We partner with Greening Australia and work with them to identify parts of Australia where habitat and land restoration is most needed. They go in and assess the conditions and local needs and plant native species in those areas, monitor their survival and restore landscapes to allow nature to thrive and native animals to return.    

How Do You Decide Where to Plant the Trees?

Ryan: Greening Australia takes a very scientific and strategic approach. Some of the areas we look at have habitat loss of up to 85%. They identify those regions and the wildlife corridors within them, so as to connect habitats across landscapes. Take, for example, our joint coastal wetlands restoration project in Queensland. Greening Australia manages planting along wetlands to improve water runoff. Large-scale erosion is an issue in some of these areas, and that sediment ends up in the ocean, impacting the health of the Great Barrier Reef. Beside climate change, soil deposits are one of the greatest threats to the reef. Tree planting and coastal wetland restoration helps purify the water runoff and reduce erosion. 

Amy: Our programs deliver large-scale landscape restoration across Australia, covering thousands of hectares of land and working in priority regions to rebuild and reconnect our unique ecosystems. Much of our work is driven by the location of critical but threatened biodiversity hotspots and we also target areas where we know our impact will add value not just to the environment, but to local communities and economies. Although our work involves partnering with private landholders, we also do enrichment planting in some conservation parks. We take a science-led approach using spatial modelling to understand where we can have the biggest impact, and we also work collaboratively with landholders to understand their priorities for restoration on their properties to help them achieve environmental, financial and productivity benefits. We’re open to expressions of interest from landholders looking to restore any part of their land.  

Did You Know? Around the world, we lose about 10 million hectares of forest every year. 

Where Are Your Current Planting Sites?

Ryan: Since the launch in 2017, the Restoring Australia initiative has planted more than 1.24 million trees across 19 sites and restored 1,800 hectares of land and habitat for native wildlife. Once these trees reach maturity, the carbon emissions captured is the equivalent of taking 206,987 cars off the road for a year.

Planting in 2023 is taking place in the Western Australia Wheatbelt, Victoria’s Otways and the Tasmanian Midlands, where 245,144 native trees will be planted.

What Sort of Trees Are Grown?

As part of the tree-planting process, Greening Australia works with landholders.

Ryan: Greening Australia are the experts with planting, so we’re guided by them. It’s generally at least 20 native species, from understorey plants (lower-level foliage) to taller trees. It’s very specific to the region. In an area like Monaro in New South Wales, it’s all about replacing ribbon gum (Eucalyptus viminalis) in this important koala habitat, where there has been eucalypt dieback. Greening Australia works out how to introduce species that are primed to survive. 

Amy: We plant locally appropriate native species that are representative of the remnant vegetation in those areas. We use climate data from the CSIRO to help assess what the landscape might look like in 20 or 50 years and try to adapt our seed mixes appropriately so that our plantings are also equipped to thrive in a changing climate. The species we choose to plant also depend on the target animals we are building habitat for. Additionally, different sites vary considerably in terms of how many species we plant. Some sites might only need 15 species to achieve their objectives; on one Officeworks site in the WA wheatbelt we are collecting seed for 75 different species. This is a Greening Australia-owned property, and of the 2,000 hectares, around 300 were Officeworks planted in 2022. 

How Many Trees Are Planted Each Year?

Ryan: At least 200,000 a year, based on the volume of paper products we sell. In September 2021, we reached our milestone of one million trees planted since we launched. We have a goal of planting two million trees across Australia by 2025. 

Who Does the Planting?

Officeworks team members take part in the Restoring Australia tree-planting initiative.

Ryan: Most of the planting is by Greening Australia, but as often as we can we run tree-planting days so team members can learn more about the initiative and get hands on. 

Amy: We have Greening Australia team members located across Australia. They work within the community to do plantings, alongside a network of subcontractors under our direction. Wherever we can we partner with First Nations communities and Traditional Owners to support their aspirations to care for Country. 

Did You Know? In New South Wales and Queensland, the greatest threat to koalas is loss of habitat

SEE ALSO: How Officeworks’ Tree Planting Is Restoring the Environment

What Happens After Trees Are Planted?

Ryan: In the early years they’re monitored quite closely, because there are a lot of threats that trees are faced with, from fires and floods to wildlife. For example, on a site in Tasmania, we noticed sheep had gotten through fences and had eaten some of the trees, so the team went back and made sure the fence was repaired and the trees replanted.  

Amy: We spend a lot of time monitoring them. The first one to two years are very important. We make sure seeds are growing, check if seedlings are getting munched by anything and implement weed and pest control where necessary. Our monitoring program continues for about three years to make sure plants are getting a good start for surviving the harsh environmental reality that is Australia.   

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What Progress Have You Seen Since the First Trees Were Planted?

The tree-planting initiative in biodiversity hotspots has helped endangered species.

Ryan: Planting is generally done on private land – landholders range from farmers to Traditional Owners who have parcels of land they want to restore back to the original environment. They all have different stories, and what’s really apparent is, within the first two to three years, wildlife returns quickly. I was in Victoria’s volcanic plains and the farmer told me that once Greening Australia had planted, he didn’t need to use pesticides on his property because the trees stopped the spread of weeds. Wildlife was returning, particularly birdlife. There are about 18 threatened species that the plantings are working to provide habitats for. 

What Are Some of Those Species?

Ryan: There are so many. Like the swift parrot, endangered in the Southern Highlands of NSW. Koalas in Monaro. Greater gliders, growling grass frogs…

Amy: We’ve provided great habitat restoration for the superb parrot, as well as red-tailed black cockatoos and spotted pardalote. We sometimes partner with other organisations because we know that collaboration helps us achieve more than we could alone. For example, the University of Tasmania has collaborated with us through our Tasmania Island Ark program to help monitor wildlife, following our landscape restoration in the midlands.  

What Are Your Plans for the Future?

When tree planting in the regeneration initiative is done, the new plants are carefully monitored.

Ryan: Most Australians want to make more sustainable choices. Our role is to make it easy, affordable and maintain quality. We see Restoring Australia as an ongoing way for consumers to make more sustainable choices, simply by choosing where they purchase paper products from. We’ve got around 10,000 products that are part of the program, so anything, from envelopes to copy paper to cardboard boxes, all contribute. Tree planting is a simple activity, but when you work with the right partner with a scientific approach, it has far-reaching benefits. 

Amy: We’ve been working with Officeworks since 2017. We really feel closely aligned in our values and goals when it comes to providing benefits to communities and the environment and hope the partnership will extend to the future. We’ve come so far: from 78,000 plants to nearly 250,000 each year. Two million, here we come!

Did You Know? Since 2000, about 10% of tree cover has been lost from the world.

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