Tree Investment Tool quantifies cost of establishing trees

Friday, 18 September 2020

The inclusion of trees in urban landscapes provides many different types of socio-economic, physical, mental and environmental benefits, but many urban planning decisions are made by accountants and finance departments and cost remains a primary factor.

In acknowledgement of the importance of cost in urban planning decisions, a quantitative planning tool has been developed through a Hort Innovation levy-funded project ‘Budget tool to calculate the cost to successfully establish trees in the urban landscape’ (NY18003).

The tool, developed by Natural Capital Economics, Mosaic Insights and Alluvium Consulting, aims to equip urban greening officers at local councils, developers, landscape architects and the sales teams of production nurseries with the information needed to have meaningful conversations at the boardroom level.

Trees are an asset, just like any other infrastructure within councils, but historically performing accurate life-cycle budgeting analysis has not been possible. For the first time, a tool has been developed which allows just that.

Decision makers now have access to a tool that enables investment decisions regarding urban trees to be made in the same way as decisions are made about built infrastructure. The decision-making playing field between green assets like trees and built assets is now level.


Across the 12-month project, the team at Mosaic Insights engaged various stakeholders across Australia including nurseries, landscape architects, horticultural contractors, consultants, developers, arborists and local councils.

To ensure the investment tool is tailored to the needs of the nursery industry, the initial phase of the project engaged a range of practitioners to gain a better understanding of the extent to which different sectors of the industry understood the lifecycle cost of trees. This also ensures that the tool incorporated the right sort of information to meet users’ needs.

After the initial development of the tool, consultation continued with a webinar and four workshops with over 50 attendees who provided feedback and contributed to the robustness of the tool.

Users can plan for a green urban landscape by developing and comparing up to 3 ‘options’ simultaneously as represented by the tool’s data and chart features that help estimate lifecycle cash flow costs. They can also test strategies, establish models and evaluate results relating to anything from tree establishment to future tree mortality costs. The model can be applied for a single street tree, a number of street trees, or for an urban forest project.

The current version of the model can be easily accessible on any computer, allowing the user to establish budget requirements and map out lifecycle costs.


The budget tool aims to simplify the lifecycle costing process by helping users break down factors such as: planning, installation, and the ongoing costs when looking to improve a city’s green assets.

The tool has potential to positively influence future investment decisions, ensure properly costed operational management, greater community confidence and contribute overall to a happier, healthier urban landscape.

A salesperson armed with knowledge is a powerful tool. For growers, the tool can be accessed to assist potential clients with understanding the trade-offs when making planning decisions and how by investing in green space or in certain trees, money can be saved in the long run. For example, larger and better-quality tree stock will save money in the long-term.

Using the tool

Set to provide councils, developers and broader industry stakeholders with the ability to quantify the full lifecycle costs of establishing trees in our cities, this investment tool aims to encourage greater establishment of urban green infrastructure to drive demand to the nursery industry and improve the overall liveability of our cities.

Whilst this tool takes a purely financial perspective to the establishment of trees in urban planning decision, when combined with data on the benefits of green space it becomes an invaluable sales tool for nurseries.

Growers are encouraged to download the Tree Investment Tool and simple user guideline, which is now available on the Hort Innovation website here.

View the media release announcing the availability of the Tree Investment Tool here.

The ‘Budget tool to calculate the cost to successfully establish trees in the urban landscape’ (NY18003) project is funded by Hort Innovation using the nursery levy and additional funds from the Australian Government.