Approximately 45% of India’s land is degraded primarily due to deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, and mining and excessive groundwater extraction. India contributes 5% to global CO2 emissions. On the brighter side, India has the 10th largest forest cover in the world at 68 million hectares. The government’s National Action Plan on climate change involves expanding this forest cover from the current 23% to 33% and to afforest 6 million hectares of degraded forest land. More than 2/3rds of the degraded land can actually be regenerated.
About the Social Enterprise
Grow Trees works towards the objective of preserving the environment by addressing two root problems of deforestation and global warming through an idea as simple as planting of trees. The social enterprise adopts a number of models where it allows companies and individuals to plant saplings on community or public lands. The company or the individual can plant a tree for as little as INR 60 on the social enterprise’s online website “www.Grow-trees.com” for planting the sapling and dedicating it to employees, customers or friends and family, thereby providing revenue to the social enterprise for self-sustainability. Planting trees not only improves wildlife habitats, preserves biodiversity and thereby fights climate change but also provides livelihood opportunities to the communities who are directly involved in the planting of the trees.
Grow-Trees.com has also partnered with NGOs who serve as planting partners in each of their specific planting areas. These partners are responsible for planting the sapling and maintaining it for its lifetime where the work is undertaken by the people from rural areas and community members. These labourers are adequately paid by the respective NGO who are directly funded by Grow-trees.com. The communities are also availed of the by products of trees like fruits, fodder, flowers, etc. Grow-Trees.com has a dedicated auditor who visits their project sites often to keep a check on the survival of the trees.
About the corporate partnerships
The corporate world partners with Grow-Trees in a number of ways. Largely, many companies encourage their stakeholders like customers, employees, distributors and chief guests to plant trees or trees are planted in their honour by the company. This is enabled in different ways. For instance, AXIS bank provides its customers a chance to plant trees by using points from their Loyalty Rewards. So instead of availing an ice-cream at Baskin and Robbins, AXIS bank customers can now use it to plant trees through Grow-Trees.com. Conde Nast India gifts trees to its employees on their birthdays through Grow-Trees.com. In this gifting model, the company pays up for the cost of planting the tree and in turn gifts its employee with a tree certificate. FICCI has moved out of the traditional way of gifting flowers and other momentos at conferences. FICCI now presents trees to honour its chief guests and speakers.
Aligning to the larger vision of environment sustainability, companies like Kotak Mahindra encourage less usage of paper. The company plants one tree, through Grow-Trees.com for every customer who opts for an e-statement.
Grow-Trees.com provides companies an opportunity to offset their carbon footprints as well. Companies like Loop Mobile are exercising this opportunity and bettering the global environment. Companies have also designed creative models suiting their company objectives. For instance Mahindra Reva planted trees for every kilometer driven petrol-free from Paris to Prague during their WAVE campaign. SBI Life plants trees for customers who subscribe to children’s insurance policy and for employee birthdays. One of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies Sanofi Limited under its umbrella of CSR programs plants trees to honour doctors they are working with.
Trees are also planted by companies on important events. On the occasion of Global Volunteering Day, DHL-Blue Dart launched a campaign ‘Sponsor A Tree’ in association with Grow-Trees.com. Over 4500 employees from both companies sponsored over 10,560 trees either in their name or to honour their family, friends and colleagues. Reliance Mutual Funds plants trees in the commemoration of ‘World Environment Day’.
Grow-Trees.com has been declared as the official tree planting partner for United Nation Environment Program’s Billion-tree campaign. It is also the official partner of WWF’s Cities for Forests Campaign and official partner of United Nations Decade on Biodiversity. Grow-Trees.com in collaboration with its planting partners, NGOs, rural and tribal communities and 160+ corporate partners has planted over 6,93,000 trees since its inception in June 2010. The independent auditor through its elaborate site visits has quoted a survival rate of above 85% of the trees planted via Grow-Trees.com.
To the Corporate
Planting trees through Grow-trees.com serves as a great brand building exercise for the corporate. These trees are usually planted on public or community lands. This allows the company to create an image in remote areas and thus connect to communities as an environment friendly company. With creation of livelihood opportunities, it also poses as a socially responsible business. It also helps in building an image in front of the advisors, chief guests, speakers, etc. by planting trees in their honour.
Employee Engagement and interaction
Either by the way of gifting employees on their birthdays or getting them to sponsor trees on “World Environment Day”, this model engages employees on a large scale in a company’s CSR. It also holds great scope for employees of different companies to interact with each other. The celebration of the Global Volunteering Day was the perfect way for employees of Blue Dart and DHL to connect with each other on a non-business platform.
Increase in Reliability
Many professionals have been able to win over customers by planting trees in their names. For instance, Sanofi Ltd. planted trees on behalf of the doctors they have been working with. By placing the Grow-trees certificates on their tables, these doctors were able to secure a large base of patients by coming across as socially and environmentally responsible individuals.
Shouldering fewer responsibilities
This model allows the corporate to have a one-time engagement with the planting partners and the social enterprise. The company only needs to make a monetary investment for the tree in the beginning. The responsibility of planting and maintaining it lies with the planting partners. The judicious use of the trees is ensured by the community members. This CSR model helps corporate to make an impact with maximum engagement and lesser responsibilities.
Grow-Trees.com has a few designated areas to plant trees. It works in multiple states with multiple planting partners. This gives the corporate an opportunity to choose from a number of areas on the basis of feasibility or its area of operations or any such criteria.
Creative models adopted by companies like Mahindra and SBI Life have helped in leveraging their services. The SBI Life model encourages its customers to align the purchase of their child’s insurance policy to an environmental initiative.
To the Social Enterprise
Large scale partnerships
Partnering with a corporate provided access to a large number of stakeholders like employees, customers, distributors, vendors, etc. for the social enterprise. Partnering with individuals does not carry with it the virtue of large scale partnerships.
Branding and skill building
Social enterprise has availed the benefit of brand building by partnering with a corporate. Plus working with more than 160+ corporate partners has instilled a sense of professionalism, discipline and accountability in the social enterprise as well. Companies are appealed to partner with social organizations that have standard auditing and implementing procedures and with time. Grow-trees.com has learnt to imbibe those skills in them.
Choice of location
Many companies request the trees to be planted in their office compound or a location of their choice. This is not a feasible option because the social enterprise has a strict policy of not planting on private lands. Trees are planted only on public lands, wildlife habitats, community holy places, and government owned deforested or arid areas.
Lack of knowledge
The social enterprise confesses that it is really disheartening how many companies are still unaware of the meaning of CSR. The social enterprise helps companies understand CSR and how it works.
Lack of reporting
Grow-trees.com does not tag the trees to the recipient but any individual or corporate is free to go and visit their trees independently by themselves with no prior notice.
Grow-Trees.com with its partnership with a number of companies has proved to be a successful example of collaboration of various stakeholders. By including the rural and tribal communities, NGOs, companies and donor individuals; Grow-Trees.com has presented a systemic and detailed approach where each party has something to contribute and something to take from it.