In the business world, it can be tempting to only focus on growing the bottom line. But there’s an additional level of reward that comes from having an awareness of how a business affects others, and making a pronounced effort to give back.

Houston-based Apache Corp. supports this philosophy. Over its 60-year history, the company has launched programs focused on enhancing educational opportunities, supporting the arts and improving the communities in which it operates. One of the newest initiatives is its Tree Grant Program, which began in 2005 through the Apache Foundation, the company’s philanthropic arm.

The Apache Tree Grant Program focuses on improving wildlife habitats, restoring storm damage, and enhancing cities and neighborhoods. For the program’s efforts, Apache won

Oil and Gas Investor’s 2011 Excellence Award for Best Corporate Citizen.

Since it began, the foundation has given away almost 3 million trees to more than 250 nonprofit organizations across 14 states, including schools, cities, counties, parks, universities, cemeteries, homeowner’s associations, baseball associations, soccer associations, youth associations, Boy Scout troops, wildlife refuges and community nonprofits.

“Basically, we’re tree fans and we like doing something that’s long-lasting in nature and improves the communities in which we operate and other areas,” says Roger Plank, president and chief corporate officer.

“In 2005 we thought it was an audacious goal to get 1 million trees planted, but it wasn’t long thereafter that we reached that goal. In fact, we planted our millionth tree right outside our building three years ago. We decided to keep going, so we made the new goal 3 million trees. Once we reach that goal, I can’t imagine we won’t reset a higher one and keep on going.”

The program ties directly into Apache’s business from the standpoint that the company derives its resources from the earth, says Plank.

“We want to make sure we do our part to benefit the environment. What better way to do that than trees? They sequester carbon and they’re beautiful. The longer I live, the more I see the difference trees make to our communities.”

As the tree award is based on grants, organizations must fill out an application outlining the details of their request and a proposed planting and tree maintenance plan.

“Frankly, we have the easy part. We get to give away the trees. The tough part is finding somebody that cares enough to maintain them. But if someone is taking the time to apply for the trees it’s a strong indication that they like them and want to see them grow. So, you have a natural group of people willing to d o the tough part, which would be really hard for us to do in every community in which we operate.”

Robert Dye, senior vice president, global communications and corporate affairs, adds, “For the application, people have to represent a nonprofit organization. They also have to essentially prove to us that they have the capability and the resolve to maintain and water the trees.”

image- Roger Plank planting a tree

Roger Plank, president and chief corporate officer (below, right), and a team of volunteers from Apache Corp. help replant donated trees on Arbor Day in Houston's Memorial Park.

Helping Mother Nature

Natural disasters have presented plenty of opportunities for replanting. “During the last four years, a number of areas have had natural issues that have really taken out a significant number of trees,” Dye says. “There was Hurricane Ike, and there were also some big ice storms in Oklahoma where we have operations. West Texas has had some fires and our tree program has been active there as well.”

In 2008, Hurricane Ike destroyed most of the large oak trees on Broadway Boulevard in Galveston, Texas. Apache replanted trees on two city blocks and installed a watering system.

Also, last spring the company again gave trees to the Houston parks system. To date, Apache has given the Houston parks 50,000 trees, and the effort has taken on new meaning with the droughts in the area, Plank says.

“That also ties into a thesis that it took me years to understand about trees,” Plank says. “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. When these natural disasters happen, there’s a clear void.

“All you have to do is drive down Memorial Drive in Houston to see the devastation. It’s going to take a few years to get it looking good again, but we get many comments on how our efforts are appreciated. That is its own reward.”

Also, when the Gettysburg National Park in Adams County, Pennsylvania, was being reforested, Apache donated 3,500 fruit trees to the effort. Thanks to this donation, contractors were able to replant two historic orchards, areas that were wooded during the battle of Gettysburg in 1863 but are open ground today.

image- Roger Plank and Robert Dye

At top, Roger Plank, president and chief corporate officer, hopes Apache's efforts inspire its employees and others to continue planting trees. The tree program was launched at a very opportune time for several of the company's operating areas, says Robert Dye, senior vice president, global communications and corporate affairs.

Corporate conscience

The response to the tree grant program has been very positive, Plank says. “It’s almost like the public forgets that we’re an oil and gas company. People really appreciate what we are doing for the environment and for neighborhoods. We’ve received so many letters of thanks and support. Some of these trees have really transformed areas that have been hit hard by storms.”

Efforts like the tree program and other community initiatives can be beneficial for companies—beyond the bottom line. According to Plank, it’s important, as a well-rounded company, to have a corporate conscience. This includes doing things for the community that aren’t all about making money.

“Along with success comes responsibility, and we’ve been very fortunate as a company. It makes us appreciative and it makes us want to give to the community.”

The company actually ran the numbers on the amount of carbon it is sequestering with its trees planted to date, but Plank says it’s going to take a lot more trees to make a huge difference. But the effort must begin somewhere.

“If everyone made a little effort, an initiative like this could go a long way. Regardless, we hope our efforts inspire our employees and others to plant trees because it will make a difference, as the world grows and cuts down trees in the name of progress. It becomes incumbent on all of us to give back a little.

“We look at our business as a way to improve the standard of living. In many instances people don’t accept that because we are an oil and gas company, and people tend to take energy sources for granted. But along the same lines, from day one we’ve tried to be a good corporate citizen. The underlying thesis behind that is we want to leave the world a little better than we found it.”