48 Plant-for-the-Planet App
For using technology to gamify and accelerate reforestation
Felix Finkbeiner was just 9 years old when he became a climate change activist, calling on children around the world to plant 1 million trees in every country. He formed Plant-for-the-Planet with money raised from Toyota and gave a speech at the United Nations as a preteen. Buoyed by a cheeky star-studded campaign to “stop talking, start planting,” Finkbeiner’s group eventually linked up with the U.N.’s Billion Tree Campaign and, increasing the target, renamed it the Trillion Tree Campaign. The combined effort has planted more than 13 billion new trees since 2006.
As Plant-for-the-Planet has scaled operations to meet the trillion-tree goal, the organization’s leaders have turned to technology for a boost. Sagar Aryal, a Plant-for-the-Planet volunteer for more than 10 years who is now CTO, took charge of developing an app to connect supporters with 50 large-scale reforestation projects around the world that they could fund. With no previous technical background, Aryal recruited a global team of volunteer developers. Launched in September 2019, Most Influential Projects 2020 the app includes interactive features that let contributors keep a running tally of progress and even view their forests on a map. Developers also added a leaderboard of top tree-planting people, companies and countries around the world to spark action—and a little competition.
“When you donate to a nonprofit, you often don’t really know where the money goes,” Aryal says. “But with the Plant-for- the-Planet app, now you can track where your money is going, you can see exactly where the tree is going to be planted and maybe in a few years you can even visit that forest.”
Over its first nine months, the app generated donations for more than 2 million trees. A planned upgrade will include even deeper transparency features, Aryal says, letting users see their forests via high-res satellite or drone images. The team is also pursuing more comprehensive reforestation data collection to inform the scientific community and help ensure accountability among governments and organizations.
“This will help solve some of the biggest challenges in reforestation, such as double counting in carbon credits, and transparency in terms of where the trees are being planted and making sure people don’t double-report,” Aryal says. “We absolutely know that planting trees is not the solution for climate change. But planting trees helps buy us some time. And while we lobby our governments to bring climate action or switch our energy grid, this is something simple that we can do.”