Diplomats from 12 countries gathered to plant trees in Washington recently at the International Cultural Center, where 21 foreign missions are located. It's part of the U.S. State Department's Greening Diplomacy Initiative.

Austrian Ambassador Hans Peter Manz, whose career as a diplomat has moved him from country to country every five years, called the tree plantings an opportunity to experience the American culture of neighbors working together.

“If we can put some more trees into this beautiful city, that's great,” he said.

Rama Toure, from the Embassy of Monaco, said that the "Prince of Monoco himself is very much into environmental issues, so planting trees, I believe, is just a good way for us to show our dedication to the environment.”

The State Department launched the Greening Diplomacy Initiative in 2009 to try to improve the environmental performance and sustainability of its facilities and operations.

The department's Landon Van Dyke said the U.S. is dedicated to promoting environmental sustainability and reducing the environmental footprint of human activities around the world. He said that with the tree plantings, the Americans were "sharing best practices that we have with other countries, but also learning from other countries [about] their best practices and their sustainability challenges.”

A.W. Ado, Nigeria's economics minister, pointed out that his wn country is facing the problem of desert encroachment.

“The U.S. does not have a lot of deserts like [the] northern part of Africa, but still, you are still watching this problem of desert encroachment by planting more and more trees,” he said.

Technical help for the event came from Casey Trees, a nonprofit group whose goal is to restore, enhance and protect Washington's tree canopy.

For the diplomats, planting trees may not have been their typical day at work, but they said it was nice to get out of the office — and also good exercise.

“It's not a typical day, but it would be nice if it were," Manz said, "because it’s much healthier to be out here in this nice October afternoon, rather than, you know, sitting in front of your computer and trying to make sense of all the information that’s coming in.”

And it was also an opportunity to make some new friends. Toure said it was the first time she'd met her teammate, Jose Corrales from the Embassy of Honduras. He "actually works in the same building as we do, but we never actually got to meet,” she said.

“I find that hard labor brings people together," Corrales said. "It’s nice to see the community of diplomats doing something different. It brings us together and helps us to achieve our goal together.”

Altogether, the diplomats planted 31 trees — all paid for by the participating embassies.