The world has lost its color as deforestation and environmental issues have skyrocketed. According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the earth loses 18.7 million acres of forests per year. However, a new program by Tree Planet has made it possible for anyone to help solve these problems merely using a phone.
Tree Planet, a social venture startup, aims to make the world greener by combating environmental issues including climate change and desertification through various activities like games and crowdfunding. Founded in 2010 by CEO Kim Hyung-soo and Jung Min-cheol, the group has come up with a ‘funation’ concept by creating a game in which users plant trees. Funation is a new trend of donating, and it comes from the word ‘fun’ and ‘donation’. The purpose is to motivate people to donate through fun activities like Tree Planet.
The game is a simulation game in which users grow a tree from scratch, starting from planting the seed on land and giving it water and fertilizers regularly. As users care for a virtual tree, the game is similar to the old digital pet game, Tamagotchi.
“Many corporations are already investing in reforestation,” Kim said. “However, because we wanted everyone to participate, not only corporations, we created a game because it was the best way to gather people. For every tree planted in the game, we plant one in real life.”
The game became a major success, and the company launched Tree Planet 2 and 3 as computer and smartphone-based applications. More than one million people have participated in planting trees all around the world including Mongolia, China and South Korea.
Tree Planet was recognized numerous times by the public. In 2013, it was chosen as Korea’s first Business Observer for United Nations Conventions to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and was certified Global Social Impact Venture by B-Corporation.
“While managing the game, we realized that many people tend to name their virtual forests after celebrities,” Kim remarked. “With that in mind, we created a new concept of a crowdfunding platform in which people can dedicate an entire forest to their favorite celebrities.”
This crowdfunding platform concept started in 2012. Today, there are more than 100 forests under the names of celebrities like EXO, Girls’ Generation and Kim Soo-hyun all over the world including Korea, China, India and North Sudan.
According to Kim, half of the revenue obtained through sales, advertisements, and crowdfunding donations goes into tree planting activities and the company itself only takes 15 percent of the profit.
Tree Planet also started the Forest in Peace project, where they plant a commemorative forest for victims of the Sewol Ferry Incident, Comfort Women and heroes of the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong.
A new project began in 2016 to plant coffee farms in Nepal with financial support from the Nepal Government.
“After accomplishing a coffee farm in Nepal, we decided to branch out to Rwanda and Indonesia,” Kim said. “The farm income doubled, so using the profit, we helped young kids go to school.”
Today, Tree Planet has planted 80 thousand trees in 200 forests with 1.1 million people from 12 countries around the world. They recently opened a factory where people can adopt a tree and experience growing a tree yourself.
“Environmental issues are going to continue to develop,” Kim added. “We need people to act on issues like fine dust and disposable products and plastics. Just as Ewha students have made great changes to the school and the society, I also hope they participate and take action in making a clean environment for everyone to live happily in.”