Andy Lipkis is a practical visionary who has dedicated his life to healing the environment while improving the lives of individuals and communities. He founded TreePeople in Los Angeles in 1973 at age18 and continues to serve as its President. Andy has spearheaded an approach using trees and forest-inspired technologies to make cities sustainable while mitigating floods, drought, pollution, and global warming. Called “Functioning Community Forests,” it is being demonstrated in L.A. as a model for cities everywhere.
Click here for a one-page biography in PDF format.
It was the year of the first Earth Day, 1970, and 15-year-old Andy Lipkis was enjoying another summer at a pine forested summer camp in the San Bernardino Mountains. But he stopped feeling so carefree when a naturalist told his group that the forests in the mountains surrounding them were dying, victims of the air pollution creeping up from the sprawling city below. Andy was told, “Unless these trees are replanted with smog-tolerant species, within a few decades the forests will all be gone.”
Andy took up the challenge to save the forests, even though he was “just” a teenager. That summer, he organized fellow campers to plant a grove of smog-tolerant seedlings in what had been a dirt lot. Along the way, they planted the seeds of an organization that grew into TreePeople.
Three years later, Andy was in college and hard at work organizing hundreds of summer campers to plant thousands of trees in the mountain forests. A Los Angeles Times article called out to the public to help him save 8,000 “baby trees” from being plowed under by the Calif. Dept. of Forestry so they could instead be planted by kids. The response to the article was overwhelming. In the next few days, Andy received over $10,000 in donations, mostly in 50 cent increments. TreePeople was born, and Andy has served as its President ever since.
Now one of California’s largest independent environmental organizations, TreePeople is a global leader in adapting cities for sustainable living. Under Andy’s leadership, the organization's proven programs blend the science of urban forestry with an understanding of human behavior, inspiring and empowering people to take personal responsibility to ensure a sustainable future.
Since its founding, TreePeople's efforts have resulted in the planting of over two million trees in forests, urban neighborhoods and school campuses. Over two million children have participated in its award-winning education programs. TreePeople has received numerous honors and awards including recognition by the United Nations World Forestry Organization in 2003 for its work as a global model for other large cities.
Andy is a creative problem solver who develops solutions to pressing public health, economic and environmental issues by forging partnerships between diverse and sometimes conflicting parties. For over 35 years Andy’s leadership has helped make Los Angeles a testing ground for visionary, community-based efforts:
- Establishing TreePeople’s headquarters at an historic former fire station, at 45-acre Coldwater Canyon Park where it has been based since 1977.
- Mobilizing volunteers on an unprecedented scale for disaster-relief work after severe flooding hit Los Angeles in 1978 and again in 1980, resulting in TreePeople’s headquarters being designated L.A.'s Emergency Resource Center.
- Creating the “Urban Forest Run” in 1979, and continuing for four years, which closed the Marina Freeway to accommodate 5,000 runners.
- Successfully leading the 1984 Los Angeles Million Tree campaign, launched in response to the city’s Air Quality Management Plan.The city estimated the trees would require twenty years to plant at a cost of $200 million. Andy led TreePeople in inspiring the people of Southern California to accomplish this in just three years – in time to welcome the world to the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games – at a fraction of the cost.
- Beginning in 1984 what is now an annual distribution of thousands of surplus bare root fruit trees to alleviate hunger and provide nutrition to high-need areas of Los Angeles. More than 80,000 have been distributed to date.
- In 1986, after a year of research, sending 6,000 of the fruit trees to alleviate hunger in Africa. Over the next three years, 1,200 additional trees were planted with the cooperation of humanitarian assistance groups, indigenous organizations, and government agencies. TreePeople provided follow up and training through 1989 to ensure survival.
- Helping to found the citizen forestry movement with the development of the “Citizen Forester Training.” Andy coined the term to refer to the thousands of residents TreePeople has trained and supported to organize their neighborhoods to plant and maintain trees.
- Writing and publishing in 1990 of what is now considered to be the classic reference book for community tree planters, The Simple Act of Planting a Tree: Healing Your Neighborhood, Your City and Your World, co-authored with wife Katie.
- Supporting TreePeople's largest-ever urban planting and the world’s largest living monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1990 when 3,000 volunteers planted more than 300 trees along 7 miles of L.A.’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. – all in a single day.
- After L.A.’s 1992 civil unrest, co-creating the Urban Greening Initiative of the USDA Forest Service, which brought L.A. $13 million in jobs programs and urban forestry projects.
- Guiding the creation and successful implementation of L.A.’s curbside recycling program. TreePeople reached a critical mass of 250,000 students who translated for and encouraged their families to begin recycling, resulting in 90% participation at the program's roll-out.
- Helping to found numerous initiatives including the Los Angeles Conservation Corps in 1988, and Green LA, a collaboration of 100 mainstream and environmental justice groups in 2006. Andy sits on the Board of Advisors of several organizations, has served on the faculty of the Urban National Forest Academy, and is currently a member of the California Climate Registry Advisory Committee for Urban Forestry Protocols.
- Developing an approach to use integrated watershed management to apply a forest’s natural infrastructure services to cities called “T.R.E.E.S.” (Trans-agency Resources for Environmental and Economic Sustainability),demonstrating that it was technologically and economically feasible to retrofit L.A. in this manner.
- Launching T.R.E.E.S. by bringing together 100 leading landscape and building architects, engineers, hydrologists, urban foresters, government officials and community leaders in a four-day "charrette" process that resulted in a book of "best management practices" called Second Nature: Adapting LA's Landscape for Sustainable Living.
- Demonstrating these principles at a Los Angeles residence called the Hall House using trees, mulch, swales, a cistern and an infiltration system to save energy, water, air and water pollution, solid waste, and money. To inaugurate the Hall House, TreePeople staged a fire-hose rainstorm which swayed government officials to take this approach seriously.
- Leading the study and development of a two-year cost/benefit analysis and computer model showing the feasibility of the T.R.E.E.S. multi-benefit approach thereby attracting multiple agencies and funders.
- Working with L.A. County Flood Control to develop the Sun Valley Watershed Project, a long term retrofit of a chronically flooding section of Los Angeles that demonstrates this new paradigm for increasing the sustainability of cities everywhere.
- Following the devastating 2003 Southern California wildfires, organizing an unprecedented conference for the state’s top fire ecologists, scientists and foresters to prevent future damage to the environment, economy and human health.
- Facilitating agency change, including helping to lead the Los Angeles Integrated Resource Plan for water, spurrring the creation of the L.A. County Department of Public Works' Watershed Management Division.
- In 2007, helping Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to craft L.A.’s Climate Change Mitigation Plan to reduce the city’s carbon dioxide emissions to 35% below 1990 levels by 2030.
- Completing construction in 2008 of TreePeople’s Center for Community Forestry which includes the LEED-Certified Conference Center, La Kretz Urban Watershed Garden, S. Mark Taper Foundation Environmental Learning Center, W.M. Keck Foundation Nursery, and other demonstrations of the Functioning Community Forest including a 220,000-gallon cistern to capture, clean and re-use rainwater. The Center now offers a state-of-the-art campus designed to nurture local, state and national leadership in urban sustainability.
- Appearing in numerous TV programs, such as the Emmy award- winning series, “How Does Your Garden Grow,” the PBS series "Edens Lost and Found,” as well as films including Leonardo di Caprio’s The 11th Hour, and Dirt! The Movie.
- Addressing groups across the country and around the world on the linked issues of environment, urban forestry, sustainability, water, and energy use. These include: the United Nations, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.K. National Urban Forestry Unit, the U.S. Forest Service, the Greenhouse Crisis Foundation, Greening Australia, American Society of Civil Engineers, Bioneers and Bioneers Global, and many others.