The rise in startups following the introduction of mobile phones has also seen an increase in the number of social ventures and companies with a goal to make a difference in society. Korea’s Tree Planet is one such company and it has a system that allows mobile users to help save the environment simply by playing its mobile app game.

Founded in September 2010 by Hyung-soo Kim, Mincheol Jeong and Jaehyun kim, Tree Planet’s goal is to become the company which plants the highest number of trees around the world. Having planted over 250,000 trees so far, it has well surpassed its original goal of 100,000 by 2012. For its efforts, the company recently finished in third place at the international Global Social Venture Competition, held at UC Berkeley in the United States.

The app lets users themselves plant real trees through the company’s game. It is free to download and you can choose which part of world you would like your tree to be planted in; Mongolia, South Korea or the Republic of Sudan.

The game is very simple and it involves giving water, fertilizer and potions to your tree. The tree grows as your level increases and there are also missions to complete, such as protecting your precious tree from pesky sheep trying to damage it. Once the tree reaches level seven, you can send it off to get planted in real life at your selected location.

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My virtual tree really gets planted?

While it may be hard for some to believe that a free app can actually allow users to plant a real tree, CEO Kim and his staff have worked hard to make it happen. Tree Planet has partnerships with major companies such as Hanhwa, and organizations including the UN and World Vision. Tree Planet receives money for the advertising in the app and this is given to organizations to pay for the planting of new trees.

Kim explains more:

The costs for planting trees are very expensive, but through users we are able to help provide funds to improve the earth’s environment. When users play the game they can get a sense that they are not just wasting time on their device but they are actually doing something worthwhile.

The trees not only help the environment but also provide shelter and fruit to eat or sell. The water pumps which appear in the game are also donated to developing countries to help improve living conditions.

So far 300,000 people have downloaded the app and users who send their trees to get planted receive detailed information about their tree, that includes its including name (yes, they are named!), sex (that too!), location, when and where it was planted and even a photo.

In a similar style to sponsored child programs, users receive updates about their trees every few months via email, and Tree Planet sends out teams to take photos of users’ trees on a regular basis.

The reporting aspect is very important to Kim:

We make sure to answer any questions that users have about their trees. Our teams also do reports on how the trees are doing and research into new places to plant trees.

The company is currently getting ready to launch a Facebook game in October, in a bid to continue its efforts and reach a wider audience. The Facebook release will allow users to plant trees directly from Facebook and will include fun new features, such as customizing tree characters and mini-games.

Helping people become environmentally aware

Kim has always promoted environmental awareness and, prior to founding the company, he had a strong interest in the topic since high school, he says. During university he made a documentary about the planting of trees, which goes some way to explaining the focus:

Many trees need to be planted in Korea as the construction of venues such as golf courses have damaged a lot of land. Also, Korea’s culture of making mounded tombs also requires that more trees are planted.

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Even while carrying out his mandatory military service, he didn’t stop pursuing his passion and began interviewing potential co-founders on his days off — time usually spent relaxing by most soldiers.

Since high school I realized that there was not much that just one person could do that would make a difference to the environment. Media raised awareness, but it didn’t necessarily accomplish anything directly itself. But through our venture we have actually been able to plant trees.

Kim says that the company also aims to promote education about planting trees and the environment. Tree Planet is aiming to secure more partnerships with places like theme parks, which Kim believes will help it reach and educate children.

Other plans are also afoot to help increase awareness of the issue of trees, he explains:

Through the app, users are able to experience the process of planting and helping a tree grow. The sheep mini-game also reflects the fact that sheep are one of the main reasons that so many trees end up dying in many countries. In December we plan to release educational e-books on Junior Naver to help kids learn about helping the environment.

Tree Planet is currently researching new locations to plant trees including North and South America and, controversially, North Korea.

➤ Tree Planet | iOS | Android

Headline image via Shutterstock

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