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BNL Pledge Tree. Photo by Jason Remien

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Many organizations committed to environmentally responsible operations take advantage of Earth Day (April 22) and the week surrounding it to increase awareness and involvement in environmental protection.  One of the coolest Earth Week projects I’ve seen was developed by staff at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in Long Island.  It’s called a Pledge Tree.  Here’s how it works.

Employees and visitors pledge to improve the environment in some way, like conserving water, increasing the use of environmentally friendly products, or recycling.  When placing a pledge on the Pledge Tree, they donate money and receive a ticket for a chance at winning one of several door prizes.  In addition, depending on the amount donated, they receive a giveaway (e.g., a Compact Fluorescent Light bulb, a cloth bag for groceries, or a package of good organic coffee like Huila Columbia.)  The more they donate, the better the gift.  Funds raised are given to a non-profit environmental organization like a land trust.  It’s exciting to watch the transition from a bare tree on Day One, to a tree covered with leaves and pledges by the end of the week. 

Pledge Tree at BNL. Photo by Jason Remien

A "Pledge Tree" is one way for organizations to engage people in protecting the environment. People purchase a leaf, bird, etc., and make a specific commitment to act in a way that keeps the planet healthy. Their donation goes to an environmental cause. Photo by Jason Remien of BNL.


  1. Information on the organization that donations are going to displayed on poster boards
  2. other handouts depending on your theme
  3. Pledge Tree
  4. raffle tickets and raffle ticket container and example giveaway shirt
  5. poster board with types of giveaways depending on the donated amount (leaf-color coded)
  6. poster board with example pledges to pick from

Here’s what you need to make this project work:

  1. A Pledge Tree with an eye catching display.  BNL’s uses a big tree cut out of coated cardboard (two 4x8 foot pieces joined together) on a blue background.  Coated cardboard makes it easy to tape and remove items from the tree.  The display is placed in a common area like a cafeteria or reception hall.
  2. A theme or list of example pledges, as people usually like to pick from a list.  Ideas include composting yard waste, picking up litter along the road, or line drying clothes on nice days.  See www.ourbetternature.org/pledgesuggestions.htm for a sample list.  
  3. Paper leaves, apples, birds or anything else you want on the tree to distinguish the amount of the donation. For example, a green leaf can be for a $1 donation, yellow $5, orange $10, an apple $15, and bluebird for $20 or more. People then write their name and the number of their pledge on the paper and it is added to the tree.
  4. Door prizes.  According to Jason Remien of BNL, this is KEY to making the process work, as it attracts people.  It avoids most raffle rules because you are not selling the tickets – if someone makes a donation, they get a chance at a prize.  You can make your own door prizes (like bluebird nestboxes with instructions) or purchase them (BNL offers gift baskets, and even a mountain bike - see more ideas.)
  5. Energetic volunteers.  A project like this is a good deal of work, and you need folks who are not shy about “encouraging” others to make donations.  At BNL they use a sign-up sheet to staff the display from 11:30-1:30 Monday through Friday the week of Earth Day.

More ideas and links on what you can do as an individual or an organization to celebrate Earth Day can be found at the links below.

Thanks very much to Jean Pillo and Lee Wesler of the Woodstock Conservation Commission for covering the column for me while I was out of town.

Originally published in the Villager newspapers on March 21, 2008

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