[Startups in Korea] Tree Planet – Making a Difference One Tree at a Time

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, the company has surpassed its original goal of 100,000 trees by 2012. The company also came third place in 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 smartphone game. The app is free to download and you can even 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 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. Once the tree reaches level seven, you can then send it off to get planted at the 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.

“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 off their trees to get planted receive detailed information about their tree that was planted including name, sex, location, when and where it was planted and even a photo. Following this, users receive updates about their trees every few months via e-mail, and Tree Planet also sends out teams to take photos of individual users’ trees.

“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 its new Facebook game in October. The new game will allow users to plant a tree directly from Facebook and will include fun new features such as customizing your tree’s character and new 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 area ever since high school. During university he made a documentary about the planting of trees.

“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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CEO Hyung-soo Kim has always tried to promote environmental awareness.

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. The company is also planning to make more partnerships with places like theme parks which target children.

“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 North Korea.

Find out more information about Tree Planet or start planting your own trees by downloading the app for iOS or Android. Tree Planet is a UNCCD official application.

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