Revolution is just a tree away

Not-for-profit organisations award Runner-up: Greenpop

“Join the treevolution, everyone’s invited,” said Lauren O’Donnell, co-founder and director of Greenpop, a young social enterprise that focuses on urban greening, reforestation and environmental education.

In 2010 a group of 10 young people decided they wanted to plant 1000 trees for various reasons, she said. One reason was to sequester carbon emissions they had racked up during their individual overseas trips.

“We called other greening organisations, but realised they mainly wanted our money. We wanted to get our hands dirty, physically planting the trees ourselves,” O’Donnell said.

“Three of us formed Greenpop and set about raising money by doing crazy stunts such as dressing up like trees and standing in Long Street in Cape Town, or selling cardboard cutouts of trees. Once we had the funds, we planted 1000 trees at various schools on the Cape Flats.”

The experience made them realise that when young people from privileged schools mix with children from poor schools, positive social learning could take place.

“We knew we had to continue this work,” O’Donnell said. “We also received so many calls from schools requesting trees and companies volunteering their staff to help.”

Greening campaigns
The group is keeping the project small and sustainable in the Western Cape, although it is linked to a satellite project in Zambia. Since it started in September 2010, it has planted almost 10 000 trees in 164 locations such as schools, crèches, orphanages, old-age homes and community centres, and has signed up 1457 volunteers.

O’Donnell says Greenpop helps people to plant the trees and teaches them how to care for them. “We don’t just deliver the trees to schools.”

Greenpop’s greening campaigns include fun events, art and music. It plants trees on behalf of companies, groups, travellers and individuals who want to invest in a greener future, improve the lives of communities in areas where there are too few green spaces, or are interested in compensating for their carbon footprint.

“By creating an uncomplicated way for companies and individuals to invest in tree-planting activities in sub-Saharan Africa, Greenpop provides a service that success­fully links small, medium and large social investors with areas and communities that most need their environmental investments and where ­climate change adaptation, mitigation and education is imperative,” O’Donnell said.

According to Greenpop figures, about 1.3-million square kilometres – an area as large as Peru – need to be planted with trees to compensate for worldwide tree loss. It means planting about 14-billion trees every year for 10 years.

Living and thinking sustainably
Carbon emissions in South Africa are high and the average South African household consumes 12.8 tonnes of CO2 each year. Planting fruit trees in poor communities not only helps to address these problems, but also deals with the chronic malnutrition that is rife in many parts of the country, according to O’Donnell.

“We envisage the whole population living and thinking sustainably. We believe it’s not a middle-class thing to go green – people need to stand together to improve our planet and our lives.”

The Greening the Future judges commended Greenpop for its “refreshing approach”, driven by an enthusiastic young group. The judges were particularly impressed by its aftercare and community education programmes.

“On average six out of 10 trees planted in these large projects end up dying because they do not receive the correct follow-up treatment. Greenpop is addressing this problem with its post-planting programmes and the scale of its success rate in a short space of time is commendable,” the judges said.

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Michelle Nel
Michelle Nel has worked as a freelance environmental journalist, photographer and editor for more than 20 years. She is a member of Al Gore’s Climate Leadership Corps and was the first freelancer to win the SAB Environmentalist Journalist of the Year Award for print. She serves on the Linbro Park Environmental Monitoring Committee in Gauteng, which aims to turn a closed landfill site into a recycling and recreational area. She has helped numerous organisations with their communications strategies on issues ranging from people and parks to wetlands.
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