It’s a charitable initiative with more than one difference: Greenpop, the environmental charity that you can choose as a beneficiary when buying designer rings from Labro gives you a chance to share in saving an ancient forest. A real live tree will be planted in your name for around $8. Just think what a difference ten trees or twenty trees could make!
But aside from that, Greenpop is fun. They’re one of the few organizations that can make the whole “save our forests” message cool and even funny! After getting an email from Greenpop’s “Tree-E-O” (their choice of terminology), we cornered him for an interview to find out more about the people behind this powerful tree-planting initiative.
The man who began it all is Misha Teasdale, a film-maker turned environmental activist. Let’s get to know him and Greenpop a little better!
What inspired the foundation of Greenpop? Was it a single life-changing event, or a gradual process?
Greenpop started back in 2010, and there was an event – or series of events – that started it all. It was inspired by the fact that myself and a team of filmmakers were flying around the world for VW, making a documentary about football development. We went to 12 countries on four continents, flying about 360,000 km. For us, that seemed a huge distance, especially when we tried to calculate the environmental impact of all those flights. We wanted to do something about it. We had a vision to plant some trees when we got back to Cape Town, did some research and realised that in order to compensate for our travel footprint we would need to plant in the region of 661 trees. We gathered together a group of friends and like-minded individuals, asking them to join us. What an amazing group of people! They shared their valuable skills with us – skills such as graphic design, web development, permaculture, horticulture, there was even a social anthropologist – and we were all inspired to be active citizens. We thought that our tree-planting campaign would only last a month, during which we’d plant trees in under-greened communities around the Western Cape. It turns out that this is a great way to connect people with each other and the planet, and the craziest thing is that this was only ever going to last one month but once we got going we literally couldn’t stop!
Tell us a little about your co-founder. How did the relationship form and develop?
Lauren O’Donnell my partner at Greenpop and my wife has been an incredible gift in creating what we both do every day. Lauren was working in the media industry while I was making films at the beginning when Greenpop was launched, and I asked her if she would like to join me in the first month’s campaign. She was a real asset and decided to stay on as we began Greenpop’s journey. I honestly don’t think it would be possible for me to do what I do without her at my side. She’s Greenpop’s Managing Director and boy does she know how to manage.
How did Greenpop become involved with the restoration of Platbos forest?
Platbos Forest is an Incredible gem at the southern tip of the African continent. We were introduced to the forest by Francois and Melissa Krige, who live there. Six years ago, just after Greenpop started, we received a phone call from Francois asking to meet. He had some ideas for ways in which we could collaborate. I went to visit him in the Arderne Gardens in Claremont and after walking around admiring the majestic trees, we got onto the topic of potentially working together on some sort of project in his forest in the Overberg region. Lauren and I went out there in 2011 during Valentine’s weekend and spent some time feeling our way into the space in order to create a vision for something that we thought would be a very special way of connecting people with nature. At the same time we wanted to mobilise a massive push to plant indigenous trees and rehabilitate the forest. It’s been an Incredible journey since we began, and to date we have planted over 30,000 trees with the help of the Krige family and so many volunteers that come out every year to get involved with the magic of Platbos forest.
I understand that Greenpop is active in other Southern African countries, and with schools in needy communities. Which of these initiatives really stands out for you?
Greenpop’s primary focus outside of South Africa would be Zambia. To date we have planted many trees there, and beyond that we’ve been working with schools and community groups on various sustainability and educational projects. It’s been really exciting to work outside of South Africa connecting with other people on the continent. Our Zambia project is located in Livingstone, and over the last few years it’s really moved from being a tree-planting project to a much more broad, holistic approach to sustainability. We’ve added real depth there. We do Eco-education games and activities as well as tree-planting, painting beautiful murals, showcasing solar cookers (and other alternative cooking technologies that don’t need as much wood or charcoal) to really get the youth excited about the environment. We’ve been working in Livingstone for the last 5 years now and every year the project there feels like it gets stronger and more impactful.
Your organisation has really broken away from the traditional marketing of a “cause”, using humor and fun to promote environmental awareness. Who came up with that idea, and why have you chosen this approach?
I can’t say that one particular person came up with all our quirky puns and ideas. We have so many people that are connected to us and share their wisdom, fun and intuitive ideas for getting people enthusiastic about this space. Traditionally, environmentalism and green living hasn’t really been celebrated in a funny or witty way. We want to change that.
Greenpop seems to be able to mobilize a veritable army of volunteers. Where do they all come from, and can visitors to Southern Africa participate? if so, are there specific annual events to diarize, or should they just get in touch?
Our volunteers (or Treevolutionaries) come from all over the world! We’re open to as many people as we can get excited and engaged with the work that we’re doing. If they want to come and get involved and get their hands dirty, then anyone should absolutely get in touch with us. There are loads of ways to do that! We take a very active approach to social media (find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for starters!) and everyone can also always check out our beautiful new website (www.greenpop.org) where they can sign up to become a volunteer, keep track of green events and (best of all) sign up to get updates via our newsletter – The Active Citizen.
What challenges does Greenpop currently face?
I suppose we’re probably facing many of the sorts of challenges that are fairly normal for an organisation of our size. Something that can be quite hard is having to say no to things (like new ideas or projects or collaborations), because there is always so much opportunity out there but at the same time so much work we’re already doing. While opportunity can be an exciting thing it can also be incredibly distracting when you have a critical path that you would like to stick to.
What achievements are you and Greenpop proudest of?
I personally don’t have one thing that I am proud of over all of Greenpop’s achievements. The last 6 years for me have been a big, beautiful, challenging mountain to climb. There have been so many incredible moments, and ideas, and new connections with people from all over the world. With our community we have planted so many trees and we’ve made so many friends and in this process I have really felt a huge amount of purpose. To me it’s the connection with people and the purpose that I feel that is the biggest achievement.
Any new initiatives in the pipeline?
We always have something exciting on the horizon at Greenpop! One thing that I’m particularly excited about is a new workshop space that we are working on at our nursery in Woodstock where we are going to be facilitating various types of Education. For me the opportunity to have a space where one can understand soil and plants and people all under one roof (or should I say one sky?) is really exciting. Outside of that myself and Lauren my partner are heading to Thailand in the next 3 weeks to go and speak at the Sustainable Brands Conference there. We’ll tell our story and hopefully get a few more tree planters inspired!
Anything else you’d like to add?
While some of our best work is done outside, in the open air, working with our hands, social media is a great tool for connection, and mobilization of people. We love connecting and talking to people! Come and say hi on the following platforms, give us a follow, keep in touch and help us spread the Treevolution (and then join us in Platbos, or Zambia, or our nursery, our one of our planting days around Cape Town!)