Andy Lipkis is a practical visionary who began planting trees to rehabilitate smog and fire damaged Los Angeles area forests when he was 15 years old. He founded TreePeople at age 18 and has served as its President since 1973.
TreePeople is a guiding light for urban climate resilience around the world. For more than 40 years this organization has created a greener future for Los Angeles by inspiring and activating people, along with their local governments, to plant and care for trees and harvest the rain. Since its founding, TreePeople volunteers have been responsible for the planting of 3 million trees and counting. Its environmental education program reaches more than 200,000 students per year, with millions of children touched over the decades.
With climate change impacts already creating a chronic emergency for American cities, Andy’s work has demonstrated promising new ways for government agencies to collaboratively reshape urban tree canopy and water infrastructure to save lives and grow a more livable future. For example, through Andy’s leadership, water-related agencies have confirmed that LA’s average annual capturable rainfall is sufficient to provide up to half of the city’s current needs. Leading agencies are now collaborating to capture that water, adding it to local supplies while also preventing pollution and flooding.
There are many other examples throughout TreePeople’s history of Andy’s leadership as a creative problem-solver resulting in nature-based and cost-effective solutions to pressing public health, environmental, and economic challenges.
- In the 1980s Andy coined the trademarked term Citizen Forestry to refer to the thousands of residents TreePeople has trained and supported in organizing their neighborhoods to plant and maintain trees. This term has been adopted by tree-planting organizations throughout the United States.
- From 1981 to 1984, TreePeople led a successful campaign to inspire the planting of one million trees in Los Angeles in time for the ’84 Summer Olympics.
- With his wife and colleague, Kate, Andy wrote The Simple Act of Planting a Tree. Published in 1990, the book continues to be a Citizen Forestry manual.
- In the 1990s Andy helped guide the creation and successful implementation of L.A.’s curbside recycling program, which has among the nation’s highest participation rates.
- In 1993 Andy initiated the T.R.E.E.S. project to promote agency cooperation and citizen involvement to begin managing L.A. as a living watershed. This kicked off with a major design charrette, and led to the Sun Valley Watershed Project that successfully deployed green infrastructure to solve a chronic flooding and pollution problems in an urban area of 80,000 people.
- In 2004 TreePeople completed construction on one of the nation’s most sustainable buildings: the Center for Community Forestry. This LEED Platinum facility includes a 220,000-gallon cistern that captures, cleans and re-uses rainwater as part of a state-of- the-art campus that serves as a living example of the pathway to urban climate resilience.
- In 2015 TreePeople’s guided the Department of Water the Power to conduct its first-ever Stormwater Capture Master Plan to enhance local supplies as a significant water source
- In 2016, Andy convened the White House recognized Greater LA Stormwater Collaborative to demonstrate an innovative approach to urban rainwater capture that simultaneously addresses water supply, flood protection and pollution prevention.
- Andy has produced or been featured in numerous TV programs, including the Emmy-award-winning series, How Does Your Garden Grow, the PBS series Edens Lost and Found and The Visionaries, as well as films including Leonardo di Caprio’s The 11th Hour, Dirt! The Movie, Rock the Boat, and Love Thy Nature.
Across the country and around the world, Andy has addressed groups involved in 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 Australian National Science Foundation, American Society of Civil Engineers, among many others.
Andy has been inducted into both the American Society of Landscape Architects and the Society of American Foresters. Andy’s honors come from groups as diverse as the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Baha’i Faith, National Arbor Day Foundation, the California State Board of Forestry, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Andy and Kate Lipkis were named to the U.N. Environmental Programme’s Global 500 Roll of Honour. They also hold American Forests’ Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush named TreePeople the 440th Point of Light. In 2007, Andy was named a Durfee Fellow, and in 2009 an Ashoka Fellow in recognition of his leadership as a social entrepreneur.