The treevolution has begun

[Image] On school planting days, 20 pupils, teachers and Greenpop workers get planting together.

[Image] The Greenpop members give students an outdoor lesson on the importance of trees, global warming, food security, beauty, biodiversity and water recycling.

[Image] Greenpop’s founding members Misha Teasdale, Lauren O’Donnell and Jeremy Hewitt.
(Images: Greenpop)

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Lauren O’Donnell
Co-founder
Greenpop
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Cadine Pillay

Cape Town-based Greenpop has been planting trees for the past two years on behalf of companies, individuals and tourists, giving them the chance to invest in a greener future, improve communities in under-greened areas or compensate for their carbon footprint.

The social enterprise identifies places in need of trees, such as under-resourced schools or deforested areas. The trees are donated by individuals and companies and at no cost, Greenpop plants the trees in an effort to spread environmental awareness, uplift under-greened communities and combat climate change.

Instilling a green consciousness

Greenpop co-founder Lauren O’Donnell says the organisation sets out to prove that greening and sustainable living can be fun, popular and accessible. “Our objectives are to uplift communities, green urban and rural areas, create environmental awareness, combat climate change and make greening fun and popular so that a greener, more conscious movement is inspired,” she explains.

“We believe in inspiring a greener, more conscious, inclusive movement and do this through tree-planting projects, green events, education, social media, volunteerism, and activating people to start doing.”

Branching out

Initially planned as a month-long volunteering project, Greenpop started planting trees in September 2010 in schools, crèches, orphanages, old age homes and community centres, as well as in deforested areas. But it grew from a whim to a formal enterprise after its founding members, O’Donnell, Misha Teasdale and Jeremy Hewitt, realised that 30 days spent planting 1 000 trees was simply not enough.

“It just felt so unsustainable to stop; plus, our phones wouldn’t stop ringing. Principals were calling us and asking for trees for their schools, and companies were phoning trying to figure out how they could get involved,” O’Donnell recounts.

Fast-forward to the present: over 17 000 trees at over 200 locations, over 200 beneficiary organisations and 100 500 people benefitting, and you find the grassroots initiative starting to dig deeper into its work.

School planting days

On school planting days, 20 pupils, teachers and Greenpop workers get planting together. The Greenpop members start with an outdoor lesson on the importance of trees, global warming, food security, beauty, biodiversity and water recycling.

Then there is a detailed planting demonstration and then everyone is split into teams to plant, get their hands dirty and have fun while learning about how valuable and important trees are.

Afterwards, Greenpop talks the school through its grey water system, in which classes are assigned trees to maintain and water. Three times a week, each pupil brings in a two-litre recycled plastic bottle filled with their used bath or dish water from home to water their specific trees.

While this saves the school’s water, it mainly empowers the children to take responsibility for their trees and ensures the trees do not get thirsty.

Giving back to the community

O’Donnell says school planting days also make great team building activities for companies. “These days allow companies to interact with and give back to communities in need, green schools, benefit from the marketing opportunities, and contribute towards a greener, brighter future for South Africa,” she adds.

“The pledgee companies support our sustainability programme and pledge trees every month. We plant these trees at our schools and send feedback and photos to them on a regular basis.”

In addition, people can donate trees every month; they will get a certificate with the GPS co-ordinates of where their trees are growing.

Bridging the Green Divide

Greenpop connects people with nature, but also with each other. O’Donnell believes social bridging is fundamental to the group’s ethos, and Greenpop stands by the belief that its work has the potential to create further opportunities for everyone involved. “We found some interesting studies that show how urban greening can help improve the economics of an area and can socially uplift a space.

“Degradation of neighbourhoods worsens poor social cohesion, crime, drug abuse and environmental downfall. Urban greening has been closely linked to reductions in these social problems.”

In Cape Town, she explains, there is a massive divide between the “leafy suburbs” – so-called because they have trees and money – and suburbs that are not that beautiful and do not have that many trees.

However, this issue is not confined to Cape Town but is seen around the world and elsewhere in South Africa – Johannesburg’s City Parks’ started a campaign called ‘Bridging the Green Divide’, a programme to overcome greening disparities in the city.

The campaign focuses on complementing the new parks that have been developed in Johannesburg; the restoration of conservation areas; the beautification of road islands and the planting of trees.

Already 200 000 trees have been planted in the south of the city, which was left dry and dusty because of apartheid spatial planning, compared to the lush, green, treed north.

Even though South Africa is plagued by issues related to basic survival, like access to health care and clean water, O’Donnell believes environmental initiatives still hold value, and may even have the ability to pave the way to plausible solutions for more pressing problems.

Trees for Zambia

In 2012, Greenpop launched Trees for Zambia, a reforestation and eco-awareness project that began with a three-week tree planting. This was followed by an on-going campaign to grow awareness about deforestation, climate change, tree planting, environmental sustainability, and alternative energy sources.

“Zambia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world,” she says. “In three weeks, and in partnership with local authorities and NGOs, we planted 4 135 trees with 200 volunteers from Zambia and around the world, and 21 schools received trees and a fun-filled day of tree planting, education and seed propagation with pupils.”

Greenpop will be back in Zambia this year for its second event, Trees for Zambia 2013, to boost its work and plant more than 5 000 trees in schools, on subsistence farms and at reforestation sites.