The target is one trillion trees – so far, 13.6 billion marked
For Plant-for-the-Planet, the way to move forward is to collaborate, both with planting organizations and with scientists. «These projects have some sort of collaboration with academia, for an ecological understanding of the site that you are restoring», says Finkbeiner. Academic collaboration has led Plant-for-the-Planet to pursue planting projects closer to the equator, rather than temperate areas, such as North America, Europe, and most of Asia. «First of all, because these areas tend to have a lot of forests anyway», says Finkbeiner, «and second, a tree in the tropics grows faster than a tree in Germany or Northern Italy, and because of that, a tropical tree will capture a lot more carbon. In addition, planting a tree in Mexico tends to be cheaper than planting a tree in the Pacific Northwest, which is why with the same amount of funding we can end up restoring far more forest».
In the Yucatan project, it costs one Euro to plant a tree, which covers the labor cost of growing the sapling, clearing the land before planting, and post-planting clearing to ensure grasses do not compete for light with saplings. This job is done by rural workers. «We pay above-average wages for that community. We now employ around 100 people on our site, which means that with their entire families about 500 people benefit from the money that we invest there. It contributes to local well-being», says Finkbeiner, «The majority of reforestation potential is in countries of the global south around the equator, where we need to spend a lot of money in reforestation. Since it is so labor-intensive, it means that this money is spread across a community of people and creates jobs in local communities». Tree planting costs vary between projects, says Finkbeiner, «There are some organizations that focus on planting trees in high altitudes, like a partner project of ours in the Andes in South America, that have higher costs».
Plant-for-the-Planet’s data-driven approach was a key driver in the development of an app, launched in September 2019. It hosts the United Nations Environmental Program world tree counter and provides data-tracking software for all other tree planting programs that use it. Until now, there has not been a model for tracking where trees are planted, what methods are used, and what level of success planters are having. There is also no reliable data on tree survival rates across projects, but Finkbeiner describes how survival rates can vary between 20 percent and the low 90 percent range. «A lot of tree planting organizations do not do a great job at collecting data about their projects», says Finkbeiner, «It can be tedious to collect this data and to go back and set up plots to have an understanding of the impact of your work. One of the things that we are doing with the Plant-For-The-Planet app is creating a tool that the tree planters on the ground can use without any expert knowledge or training, with their own phone to collect sample data on some of the trees they have planted. Our goal is to make it easier for them to showcase the impact of their work, to then increase the willingness of people to fund their work». Finkbeiner’s vision is that the Plant-For-The-Planet app can provide a place for projects to register their work and share data. «For each project, you will see where they plant, what the average tree costs there, and a lot of other information, and you can donate to this project. We at Plant-For-The-Planet do not take any of the money, but 100 percent of the money goes from you to that tree planting organization».
This open-source app provides a way for donors to connect with projects that would otherwise have been too obscure to donate to. Finkbeiner shared the story of Say Trees in Bangalore. «A lot of these organizations that do work on the ground are not good at fundraising internationally», says Finkbeiner. Only donors in India can receive a tax receipt for their money sent, and it can be difficult and expensive to send money internationally. Through the Plant-for-the-Planet app, donors from around the world can access Say Trees and donate with low transaction costs. Soon, all donations through the Plant-for-the-Planet app will be tax-deductible for donors from around the world. Say Trees represent one of thousands of organizations that would benefit from collaboration with the Plant-for-the-Planet app.
Finkbeiner has journeyed with Plant-For-The-Planet as its influence has grown in Germany, Europe, and now worldwide. He is driven to move forward: train children in more countries as climate activists, plant trees, employ workers, reach decision-makers, support planting projects. In the face of this enthusiasm, and the momentum of climate crisis awareness built during 2019, the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 threatens to slow this progress. Finkbeiner shared his hopes that the public eye would not be drawn away from the mission of tree to fight the climate crisis. The Plant-for-the-Planet tree counter shows that over 13,6 billion trees have been planted to date, but in order to meet the trillion tree goal, it’s essential that support for the cause keeps growing. Perhaps equally important is the increased collaboration of tree planting projects, in order to meet their common goals, «To get towards that goal of a trillion trees, we at Plant-for-the-Planet won’t be able to plant these trees ourselves. We will be far more effective if we help all other tree-planting organizations scale up their work as well», says Finkbeiner.
it once was a child’s dream. Today it’s a matter of data, nitrogen-fixing ability and the value of involving the rural communities around the Equator