Using Virtual Forests and Real Trees to Save the Planet

Since it was set up in 2007, Eden Projects, in Madagascar, has planted more than 407m mangrove and dry deciduous trees
Since it was set up in 2007, Eden Projects, in Madagascar, has planted more than 407m mangrove and dry deciduous trees | Courtesy of Tree-Nation

Editorial Manager

The real-world impact of climate change can feel overwhelming at times, but what can we as individuals – and companies – do to improve things? Culture Trip speaks to Tree-Nation – a non-profit organisation that operates around the world, including Madagascar – to find out how real technology and ‘virtual’ forests can help the environment and offset your carbon footprint.

Many businesses are making commitments to change long-ingrained habits and prove their green credentials. At Culture Trip, we’ve decided on a series of initiatives to continue the work we started before the global pandemic struck in early 2020. As part of our Responsible Travel initiative, we’ve been working with Tree-Nation, a Barcelona-based project at the forefront of reforestation projects. Here’s how one company is using modern technology to help save the planet.

The travel industry has as much of a responsibility to get involved in projects like Tree-Nation as any other. Not only does air travel greatly contribute to carbon emissions, there’s also the indirect impact on destinations we all want to see and explore before they are gone forever. The loss of natural forests across the world has a greater impact on global greenhouse emissions than the entire transport sector, so it makes sense that, collectively, we do our utmost to turn the planet green again.

Daintree Life Revegetation, Australia, aims to plant 500,000 trees by 2030

To explain the thinking behind Tree-Nation and why its unique approach is already proving successful, we spoke to Filip Jastrzebski, the company’s marketing and operations director – and our guide to a smarter way of making a difference. “Tree-Nation is an online platform that specialises in creating a tangible connection between the economy as well as people’s day-to-day lives and tree-planting,” he says. “Our mission is to connect tree-planting to any traditional economic process, such as buying a product, using a website or working from an office.

“We believe that our economy/way of life is what is causing the erosion of our environment, as well as climate change,” he continues. “To solve the problem, we are connecting our economy to a regenerative process, which is tree-planting. We are responsible for both the selection of tree-planting projects as well as the acquisition of new funders such as companies or citizens, and the development of IT tools that help to create the connection between our lives and tree-planting, encouraging people to take up reforestation of the world first as a habit, and later as a duty.”

Camino Verde, in Peru, is committed to protecting and understanding biodiversity in the Peruvian Amazon

Tree-Nation was launched in 2006, when CEO Maxime Renaudin turned his knowledge about climate change and concerns over the lack of effective projects into what is now a fast-growing enterprise. Jastrzebski joined in 2019, having previously run a small tree-planting charity in Ireland.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of projects like Tree-Nation. As Jastrzebski says, “the fact that our success will be proportional to the success of our species to protect our environment, mitigate climate change and also to spread wealth to developing countries [makes it special]. The majority of our tree-planting projects are based in developing countries: paying for the planting of a tree also contributes to the income of the local community doing the work in a less privileged part of the world.”

If you want a visual representation of how this works, just take a look at Jastrzebski’s Tree-Nation page. “Technology is actually the heart of Tree-Nation,” he says. “Using computers, and the internet, we have been bringing the tree-planting experience online, thereby increasing its accessibility which is – and always was – the main problem in encouraging day-to-day people or companies to plant trees. In the same way that Amazon or Shopify have digitised shopping, allowing you to buy products you cannot even get in your own country, we are doing the same thing when it comes to trees, connecting the world and increasing our ability to tackle global issues together.”

CommuniTree, Nicaragua, is a community-based initiative whereby farmers are paid for their reforestation efforts

Individuals using this service can see how much of an impact they are having in reversing the damage caused by climate change, as can larger organisations. This is acutely true for Culture Trip, and the change we want to implement.

“Transport is innately connected to travel, which happens to be one of the most polluting industries in the world,” Jastrzebski says. “Connecting Culture Trip to tree-planting, using our services, is a great first step for the company to become climate positive. Our methodology at Tree-Nation is to start offsetting CO2 emissions immediately, then to optimise the supply chain by making it CO2 neutral. This is because changing supply chains takes far longer than planting trees, which by using Tree-Nation you could do in an instant.”

Jastrzebski is optimistic that, in this way, we at Culture Trip can make positive steps while still enjoying travel. “We cannot imagine a world without travelling – such a vision is nonsensical and would not benefit humanity. Sustainable travel is a mandatory feat that we must achieve as a species and is therefore a cause Tree-Nation certainly supports. Outside air travel, there is an increasing number of low-emission travel options available, such as trains, electric cars or public transport. I believe that, over time, the sustainable travel market will only increase,” Jastrzebski tells us. It’s a sentiment we wholeheartedly share.

Eden Projects, in Nepal, works to restore forests and protect animal habitats in areas of critical importance

Tree-Nation aims to reforest the world – and their efforts will go some way to reversing the deforestation we have seen in our lifetimes. A sense of hopelessness can sometimes creep in when we think about the damage we’re causing to the planet, and it can be hard to shake off – but Tree-Nation has shown us that there is cause for optimism, too.

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