Not many people can claim they spent the morning doing something that will last hundreds of years. But that was the case for close to 80 volunteers who participated in “Branching Out,” a tree-planting ceremony sponsored by the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions (OFM) last week.
On a crisp, clear morning, embassy volunteers, chiefs of mission, and State Department senior officials planted more than 30 trees -- with the help of citizen foresters -- on the grounds of the International Chancery Center (ICC), a 44-acre enclave in Washington, D.C. where over 20 foreign missions are located.
Unafraid to get their hands dirty for a good cause, volunteers showed up from the embassies of Austria, Brunei, Cameroon, China, Honduras, Kuwait, Monaco, Morocco, Nigeria, Singapore, Slovak Republic, and the United Arab Emirates. Austria’s Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Hans Peter Manz, captured the sentiment of many foreign mission volunteers by sharing his motivation to give back to the community.
As Senior Advisor for Environmental Performance and Sustainability Landon Van Dyke explained, “Engagements like this highlight for the diplomatic corps some of our regional environmental challenges and solutions, along with our strong desire to work together on local sustainability efforts as a global community.” In addition to the diverse representation from the diplomatic corps, several senior State Department officials, including Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom, Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, and Assistant Secretary for Administration Joyce Barr, attended the event to show their support from this environmental initiative. Lifelong neighborhood resident, Sam Teicher, out walking his dog, saw the event and expressed his deep appreciation for the State Department’s forward-thinking in partnering with the community to green the area.
This planting represents OFM’s foray into helping the District of Columbia achieve its goal of restoring its tree canopy to 40 percent by 2032. Director of OFM, Ambassador Gentry Smith, remarked, “Think of this as our inaugural event. As part of our core mission to work with the international community, OFM will be looking for more ways to engage foreign missions to meet the environmental sustainability goals of the District of Columbia, the State Department, our country, and the world.”
OFM staff members, who planned, coordinated, and launched “Branching Out,” had the foresight to tap non-profit Casey Trees to lend their expertise to this event. Casey Trees Executive Director Mark Buscaino and his staff selected a diverse species palette of evergreen and deciduous trees that are both native to the countries whose missions are based at the ICC, and thrive in the plant hardiness zone of Washington, D.C.
Speaking to the State Department’s larger interest in combating climate change, Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom stated, “We are committed to improving the environment at our missions around the globe. That’s why we launched the Greening Diplomacy Initiative to reduce our environmental impact and to help our host cities achieve their own sustainability goals -- just like you’re helping us here today.” This initiative represents a practical way the State Department is placing the environment at the forefront of our foreign policy agenda.
The volunteers who participated now have the satisfaction of knowing they not only advanced foreign policy -- what they did one morning made a positive impact in the community and on the environment that will live on for generations to come.
About the Author: Suzanne K. Whang serves in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the Department of State.