Posts Tagged ‘reforestation’

Fellowship of Earthkeepers – Class of 2010

The following story of a first-time tree planting experience in the Horqin Desert in Inner Mongolia comes from Arthur Ang, the regional marketing director for Timberland Asia.  Robert learned firsthand how impactful our tree planting initiative can be … not just for the environment and the local community, but for the volunteers themselves:

“You must plant your tree in our Timberland Forest in Horqin.”  Those were one of the first things that my colleagues told me when I joined Timberland.

I understand that we are an outdoor company but an annual trip to the Horqin Desert in Inner Mongolia to plant trees, are we stretching it just a little too much? I was intrigued, thought to myself that maybe there is more to this than just a casual, sightseeing, staff incentive trip.

The more I dug, the more I was impressed by the scale and commitment that we have towards the cause of reforestation globally and in Asia. The fact that we have been planting in Horqin for the past 10+ years (2010 was the 10th Anniversary) and that we planted the millionth tree there last April is truly amazing. What’s more impressive is that we started planting in Horqin even before we had an office or any form of business interest in China — this is so true of our mantra “it’s not what we do, it’s who we are”.

Last August, the marketing team from Timberland’s Asia headquarters, namely Robert Igabille (Trip Leader), Celine Teo and I planned the trip and were supported by the great marketing folks from the individual countries.

We decided to have a hard target of planting 2600 trees. The work would be done by the ‘Fellowship of Earthkeepers – Class of 2010,’ consisting of 129 individuals from all walks of life and from 6 countries.

It was the first time that I would be making the trip and I was totally buzzed the minute I stepped out of the door. The flight to Shenyang Airport was pretty straight forward, and from there it was another 4.5 hour car ride to the hotel that we were to stay in for this trip.  That’s when it started to get interesting.

The more in country we went, the more it was like turning back the clock, the pace, and ways of life became simpler.

It’s somewhat of a reality check and made us appreciate how much access and excess we readily have to technology and means of daily life that these villagers can never imagine existed.

For the next 3 days, bright and early at the crack dawn, together with the guides from Green Network (the NGO that we partner with in Horqin),we were herded into trucks and set off  into the desert. This is when it really hit home. We drove to a place with a huge plaque that says “Timberland Forest- since 2001,” we were told and showed in pictures that the vast expanse of trees in front of us was nothing but desert not long ago … and with the reforestation effort throughout these years, it’s recovered and is now a lush, green forest!

You could feel the sense of pride in the staff from Green Network as well as the members of our group that has been returning to Horqin year after year. For first timers like me, it was really motivating; you can’t help but feel that this is so right and that there is good in the world after all.

We were now really itching to do our part as well.

There were a few scenes during the 3 days of activities that really struck me and that I will always remember, Robert conversing with a local cobbler using the global language of craftsmanship, and making a friend in Inner Mongolia.  He also showed me the area that was planted when he was there in 2006, which was very special.

Robert showing me the trees from 2006.

Celine pointing to the row of seedlings that she planted last year; she started taking pictures of them, enthusiasm that is similar to a parent photographing her child! I could feel happiness when she saw them healthy and growing.

Proud Celine!

Lunch time was always fun, it gave us the opportunity to interact with the local villagers and share a table or mat, sample their local alcohol and foster camaraderie.

There was an unexpected event where the village chief surprised us and presented a flag to Stewart (Timberland’s vice president and managing director of Asia) as a token of appreciation for our efforts throughout the years and for improving the living conditions as well as providing a source of employment for the villagers.  This was really special.

However – the image that will always stay with me would be the one where everyone formed a human chain and watered every single tree that we planted; the cheering started from the first tree till the last (no joke!). That to me is when we truly demonstrated the meaning of  “The Fellowship of Earthkeepers.”

In reflection, being in a privileged position that helps set the vision of this program, I came away with an immense sense of pride as well as duty towards the good work that has already been done and realization that more has to be done.

The villagers as well as people in the town were skeptical of our intentions and commitment in the beginning but over time, they have come to realize our genuine good intentions, and now it’s a partnership based on trust and full of warmth.

It’s really satisfying to know that through our actions, the living conditions have improved as the trees have been effective in reducing the impact of sand storms, and it has also created jobs for the people throughout these years. Together with Green Network, we will continue to help in both areas.  We are committed to planting another 2 million trees in the next 10years (doubling our rate) and also exploring ways to further improve the living standard of the villagers, such as with a pilot project on growing cash crops like sweet corn.

In short, the reforestation of Horqin is not just about the environment and trees, it’s also about the human connection that comes with it, the bonding and the common understanding that we can play a part and do good …  not just for the time that we are in Horqin, but as an approach to practice in daily life.

I’m very proud to be part of this Fellowship of Earthkeepers. I believe that Commerce and Justice can co-exist, and it’s up to every individual to play their part.

In the spirit of The Timberland Forest in Horqin – 1 million Done, 2 Million More.


I Will Save the Forests – Just As Soon As I Update My Facebook Status

If you haven’t seen the headlines (or are focused more on Grammy-gossip than environmental news), the UN has declared 2011 the “International Year of Forests.”

I think it’s about time for this acknowledgement, actually, because trees get a bad rap.  It’s 2011 and a lot of people still associate “tree” with the word “hugger” and have visions of 70’s era hippies chaining themselves to redwoods in protest.  In fact, trees truly are a fundamental element of the ecosystem – for a lot of people in a lot of corners of the globe, they provide shelter, fuel and food, help to slow down and contain runoff from heavy rains and prevent mudslides, and bear the brunt of hurricane-force winds to protect villages from being blown off the map.  That’s not hippie tree-hugging stuff, that’s trees being critical to survival, for a pretty significant population of our world.

So great, then, that the UN has deemed this the Year of Forests – but what am I, or any other individual on the planet, supposed to do with that information?  The declaration isn’t enough – that alone isn’t going to save any trees or solve the problem.  If what we want is for people to think the cause is important enough to take action, how can we make that happen?

With all due respect, I think posting a lot of reforestation facts on a website and expecting people to go there and learn and get so fired up that they go out and plant a lot of trees probably isn’t realistic.  What we need isn’t pie-in-the-sky, save the world messaging with no ideas about how to execute – we need real action that’s easy and that everyone can be invited to take part in.

There are two ways to get people engaged in a cause: you either have to make it so overwhelmingly compelling and emotional and meaningful that people simply can’t help but get involved, or you have to integrate it into what people are already doing in their everyday lives.

The latter is a more promising strategy, because you never know exactly what will resonate or be relevant to any portion of the population … there’s something about the hippie treehugger mentality, for example, that most of the world fails to connect with.  Similarly, the idea of a group of international elitists sitting around talking about why trees are so important might compel some to get engaged, but probably isn’t all that appetizing for most.  To move on the issue of deforestation, even marginally, we’ve got to translate the cause into something that’s easy for busy consumers to act on.

Case in point: I have a debit card.  I buy stuff with it.  It has a built-in contribution to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  When I buy something using the card, apparently I also make a donation to Make-A-Wish.  Would I otherwise support Make-A-Wish?  Maybe not – not because I don’t like the organization or what it’s doing, because I think it’s super … but because I’m just too busy to think about doing it.  I can’t remember to charge my Blackberry or take out the garbage or buy my wife a Valentine’s Day card (actually, I did remember that one) – never mind remember to support an organization I think is important.  My debit card makes it ridiculously easy for me to do that — and in turn, makes me hate my bank just a little bit less.

And in this day of digital communication and connection, it shouldn’t be that hard to find opportunities for easy engagement.  Think about all the different kinds of groups that get molded together online – you go to a website, you type in your password, you’re connected to a whole network of people from around the globe who share your affinity for running, or photography or Kim Kardashian.  It’s that easy.  And when you combine easy with fun, people want to be a part of it.

We’re applying that formula – easy + fun = engaged consumers — to support Timberland’s reforestation efforts.  Working with a local NGO, we created Yele Vert – a program promoting sustainable agriculture and reforestation in Haiti.  Over the last 18 months, Yele Vert has established six community-based tree nurseries, operated by local farmers, and resulted in the planting of nearly 300,000 saplings from those nurseries in the local region.  It’s a good effort, and it makes good sense to us – Timberland is an outdoors company, and so our commitment to preserving the outdoors is a form of enlightened self-interest; no trees means no business, so we care about trees a lot.

What the program lacked was a consumer engagement element – how we could connect people in a fun, easy, meaningful way with a tree-planting initiative they couldn’t touch or see.  So we created the Timberland “Virtual Forest” on Facebook.  We’re using a platform many consumers are using already, created a program where they can build their own virtual forest – name it, plant it, watch it grow — and for every increment of virtual trees planted, we plant more trees in Haiti.  Our Facebook application isn’t the be-all, end-all, but it’s a start – we’re connecting our consumers to an issue they care about on their terms.

Declaring 2011 the Year of Forests is a good start, and we’re going to support it however we can … but in the end, actions are much more meaningful than declarations. If we could put more emphasis on creating consumer-relevant engagement programs that are easy to execute and appealing to the masses, we could really make some progress.

Serving Communities in More Ways Than One

Last week I received an email from Hugh Locke, the president of Yéle Haiti, one of Timberland’s two partners in the Yéle Vert tree nursery projects we’re supporting in Haiti. The subject line of the email was, “Yéle Vert and Cholera Response.”  I was a little apprehensive about opening it. The last time Hugh sent me a note about Yéle Vert and cholera was this past November and it was to inform me that a Yéle Vert farmer, who was also one of the program’s most ardent supporters, had died of from complications caused by cholera.

The November news, while devastating to me and many others, prompted Hugh to work with Timote Georges, our Yéle Vert project leader from Trees for the Future, and with health professionals from Partners in Health to immediately put into action a cholera prevention training program for our Yéle Vert farmers.  Within a week of receiving the training all six of the Yéle Vert nurseries began to serve as community focal points for cholera prevention.

Thanks to our passionate partners, there was good to come from such a sorrowful event. And when I finally opened Hugh’s email last week, he proved that the quick and solid course of action by Timberland’s valued partners to prevent another cholera-related death in the farming communities served by Yéle Vert was in fact an act of human greatness…

Dear Margaret:

Just back from Haiti and catching up… more to follow, but wanted to share the story below as it involves our Yéle Vert team…

Yéle Haiti’s contribution to stemming the spread of cholera has saved many lives, but you don’t often get a chance to put a face to those who have been helped. That is, until now. The face in question is that of Florvil Sony, a 15-year-old boy who lives with his parents and two brothers in the small farming community of Morancy, about 45 minutes from the outskirts of Gonaives. He recently contracted cholera. As his symptoms quickly became critical, his parents were frightened that the rest of the family could be infected if they tried to care for him. Not knowing what to do or who to turn to for help, they abandoned Florvil to die.

Twenty of the Yéle Vert technicians and farmers in this same area were trained last November in cholera prevention and treatment by Partners in Health. As word spread of Florvil having contracted the disease and been abandoned to die, a Yéle Vert technician named Wilson Noel took action. He found Florvil, took him to one of the Yéle Vert nurseries and gave him the life saving combination of water, salt and sugar that he had learned about from Partners in Health.  Having stabilized Florvil, Noel then took him using the nursery’s motorcycle to a hospital in Gonaives. By last week Florvil had completely recovered and was back with his family and attending school as usual.

Sincerely,

Hugh

15-year-old Florvil Sony (middle), photographed last week with his two brothers, after recovering from cholera. His life was saved by the efforts of Yéle Vert technician Wilson Noel.

I guess it’s true what they say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I am so proud of the amazing community-based leadership model that Yéle Vert represents.  Yes, we’re planting hundreds of thousands of trees annually. And we’re providing valuable agroforestry training and supplying seeds to farmers. But the success of the program lies not only in the tangible elements Timberland, Trees for the Future and Yéle Haiti have provided to the farmers and the six communities where the nurseries are located. Success lies also in the intangible ideal that, because of the success of the nurseries, the Yéle Vert farmers have naturally evolved to leaders because they are truly a trusted and valued part of their farming communities. Earthkeeping at its finest.

Haiti Needs Purpose, Not Pity

With the anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti upon us, I’ve seen a fair amount of predictable media coverage that recounts the devastating events of January 12, 2010, and an equal amount of coverage that focuses on the continuing plight of the Haitian people one year later.

I’m pretty ambivalent about the media coverage.  It’s not that I don’t think the situation in Haiti is worth remembering – I remember it all the time.  I was there 2 weeks after the earthquake struck last January and the sights and smells and sounds of the scared and the mourning, the sick and the dead, the endless, massive piles of rubble – those are things that stick in my mind.  I do remember.    My wish is that there could be a greater purpose to all the “anniversary” coverage of Haiti’s demise … that we could realize more than just remembrance and renewed sympathy, do more than shake our heads sadly and turn the page, or change the channel.

Sympathy has its place – compassion can be an incredibly powerful driving force.  But compassion in this case hasn’t proven effective.  For all the good that’s been done over the past year – longer, even, since we’re talking about a country that was plagued by economic and environmental hardships long before last year’s earthquake  — for all the support that’s come in to Haiti in the way of supplies and volunteers and money, it’s not enough.  Much of the aid, it’s been reported, isn’t even getting where it needs to be.  And even if every tent, every dollar, every box of food to date had been successfully directed and applied – relying on the good will and offerings of the rest of the world simply isn’t sustainable.

No, Haiti doesn’t need another telethon or more donations.  The best philanthropy efforts in the world haven’t and won’t solve for the more than 3,000 deaths to date due to cholera, or a more than 80% unemployment rate, or the fact that 1 million+ Haitians are living in makeshift shelters and unsafe, unsanitary tent cities.  As Nicholas Kristof aptly pointed out in his New York Times op-ed last week, Haiti’s people don’t need food and clothing, they need to be able to care for themselves and support their families.  They don’t need a handout, they need a ladder to climb.

There are pockets of progress to report on this front … Kristof cites Fonkoze, an organization which provides rural Haitians with economic support in the form of loans, education and training.  And Konbit, a program established by a team of MIT students, matches unemployed Haitians who might not otherwise have access to information about prospective job opportunities by way of an automated phone system.  Positive, meaningful programs like these do exist and are making a difference in Haiti … but a handful of organizations aren’t going to raise the country out of the mud and make it whole again.   It’s progress, but it’s still philanthropic progress.  I do truly and deeply appreciate philanthropy – but we can’t expect humanitarian giving to replace a sound and sustainable business model – which is what Haiti needs most of all.

Think about it: what if Haiti could present a compelling ROI to potential “investors” and demonstrate a meaningful return for their contribution there?  It would be a stretch — we’re talking about a country with a crippled infrastructure, corrupt government, widespread disease … and that’s just the headline.  Think about the challenges of doing business in Haiti when everything from their sanitation system to their roadways to their power supply is unreliable or in some places, nonexistent.  But changing the way we think about Haiti – regarding it not as the focus of philanthropy but as the source of potential opportunity – is the most compelling and promising way I can see to break the vicious cycle that’s got the country in dismal paralysis.  Haiti needs the resources and opportunities businesses could bring to bear in order to start solving for its widespread instability … but that instability is precisely what’s keeping many businesses from going there.

Note that I said “many businesses,” and not “all.”  There are many brands that have had manufacturing operations in Haiti for years, successfully … although like the nonprofit sector, it’s going to take more than the current roster to create any sort of discernible impact.  And starting this year, there will be one more name on the roster: we’re in the process of establishing a Timberland manufacturing facility there. The factory is being built in a trade zone located in Oanaminthe, a town that sits on the eastern border of Haiti adjacent to the Dominican Republic.  Oanaminthe is about 200 miles from Port au Prince, where the earthquake struck last January — but like Port au Prince, and most every other region of the country, it is an area of critical, persistent need.  The unemployment rate there mirrors the rest of the country, the living conditions are dismal and the local community is desperate for a ladder to climb.  With any luck, our factory will be open and operating by early summer … and while we’re starting small – 30 or 40 jobs to start – we’re hoping to grow to a point where we’ll need a workforce of 300 – 400 employees in the next few years.

Importantly, opening a factory in Haiti has some clear advantages for Timberland.  It will help us build our manufacturing capacity in a region that’s closer to our major markets; the abundant, motivated workforce is pretty attractive, too.  If the goal is to expand our manufacturing capacity in a manner and a location that makes economic and logistical sense, Haiti looks pretty good.

And as a company that’s committed to creating positive social and environmental impact at the same time we’re earning a buck, Haiti makes sense, too.  For nearly 2 years now, we’ve had a program in Haiti called Yele Vert which is all about reforestation and sustainable agriculture.  A little over a year ago we broke ground on the first Yele Vert nursery, with a vision of training local farmers to grow and cultivate trees, which would be sold (an economic boost for farmers and their community) or used to reforest the local hillsides.  While the earthquake took us (along with much of the rest of the world) temporarily off-track, it never took us off course.  A year later there are 6 Yele Vert community nurseries up and running at full capacity, with nearly 300,000 nursery-grown trees already planted by local farmers, and more than 100,000 slated to be planted in the next few months.

Since we’re already making social and environmental investments in Haiti, it makes sense – and is in our own best interest, if we want to see the Yele Vert vision become a blossoming reality – to invest our business there, too.  And with the establishment of a Timberland factory in Haiti, we’re completing the equation and living up to our own business model, which prescribes that commerce and justice should coexist and be mutually supportive.  I believe in our model of commerce and justice completely … and I’m as anxious as anyone to see it succeed in a country that is sorely lacking both.

Haiti probably doesn’t present as many compelling opportunities for other businesses as it does for Timberland, and I get that.  It’s a unique combination of right-place-right-time factors that have convinced us to make the leap and give it a try.  But the mentality that brought us to this point – regarding Haiti not as a repository for charitable giving and donations, but as a country that might in fact have something to offer us in the way of bottom-line business benefit – that’s the kind of shift in thinking I believe could be more valuable than check-writing and more profitable than a fundraiser.

Is going into business in Haiti a smart business decision?  That remains to be seen.  It certainly isn’t without substantial risks … but life, and business, is full of risks.  I for one choose not to dwell on “what if” and focus instead on what might be … more trees, more jobs, more stability for Haiti; a stronger, healthier relationship between an historically downtrodden country and the businesses and organizations that engage with it.

Crazy CEO fantasy?  Could be.  But as long as the fantasy is better than realty, I’ll be working toward it.

Hope in Haiti: Fighting for Humanity

At first, I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity.

- Chico Mendes, Brazilian Environmentalist

This quote describes the transition in meaning of the Yéle Vert project Timberland is supporting in Gonaives, Haiti. At first we thought we were fighting to save Haiti’s rapidly declining tree population, then we thought we were fighting to save the region’s eroded farmlands and deforested hillsides. Now we realize we’re fighting for humanity.

12 months ago we set out to build nurseries so we could plant trees by the millions annually. Fast forward to today: a year after breaking ground on the first Yéle Vert community nursery, the five community nurseries and the larger central nursery are up and running at full capacity. Over the last month and a half, approximately 280,000 of the trees grown by farmers since July in the six nurseries have been transplanted by those same farmers to their land and various community-owned properties. Approximately 95,000 trees remain in the nurseries and will be transplanted over the next two months depending on rain and weather conditions – all under the very able direction of Timote George of Trees for the Future. When those trees are planted, Yéle Vert will have put approximately 475,000 trees in Haiti’s soil in its first year – despite the January earthquake, the October cholera outbreak and the November failed elections. And that’s not all. The farmers have already seen an increase in their crop yields as a result of their putting into practice the agroforestry training provided by the Yéle Vert program.

Timote George, project manager of Yéle Vert, standing next to a 4-month old Moringa Oleifera tree at the central Yéle Vert nursery. A red arrow has been added to show the top of the tree. The large-leafed bush on either side is Jatropha, which is used as a hedge to protect crops as well as for biofuel.

Next steps for Yéle Vert include the completion of an administration building at the central nursery by the end of December. The building will serve as Yéle Vert’s administrative HQ as well as provide storage for tools, seeds and supplies. Also, the environmental education component of Yéle Vert got underway recently. A local teacher is meeting regularly with children from the villages where the Yéle Vert nurseries are situated to give them environmental education lessons.  Eventually a full environmental education curriculum and accompanying text book (written in Creole, making it the first of its kind) will be introduced to each participating Yéle Vert community.

Rosie Despignes, who has begun to implement the environmental education component of Yele Vert, showing some of the curriculum material she has been preparing.

The progress of Yéle Vert has not been without challenges. In November one of the farmers, a regular Yéle Vert participant, died of cholera and several other people succumbed to the disease in Gonaives in recent weeks. This is when the aspect of humanity, although ever-present, shone through at its brightest. Hugh Locke and Samuel Darquin of Yéle Haiti joined Trees for the Future’s Timote George in conducting a cholera prevention training session with the Yéle Vert farmers.  Timote will be receiving additional prevention training from Partners in Health and Yéle Haiti has sent a shipment of bars of soap so that all six of the nurseries will begin to serve as community focal points for cholera prevention.

What is interesting is that this leadership role for the Yéle Vert nurseries is happening naturally because they are already a trusted and valued part of these farming communities.  Also, within the next few weeks the Yéle Haiti foundation will be building one compost toilet in each of the six Yéle Vert nurseries as a result of a request from the farmers. The farmers want to see how such toilets work so that they can install them at their own farms as a cholera prevention step. Currently most farmers’ homes are without even an outdoor toilet, which can lead to the spread of cholera.

From trees to training and text books, from soil and seeds to composting toilets, Yéle Vert has become an integral part of the lives of farmers and their families in six villages around Gonaives, Haiti. Yes, it takes a village to raise a child. And it takes a village to plant a tree as well. But it also takes support from private sector companies like Timberland and from committed non-profit NGOs like the Yéle Haiti Foundation and Trees for the Future to build and fulfill a vision of sustainable living rooted (pun intended) in environmental and agricultural education, stewardship and action to create a successful model for economic, social and environmental livelihood. That’s what Yéle Vert is. And that’s something to be celebrated – especially if you imagine the day where every village in Haiti has a Yéle Vert program with multiple nurseries that grow millions of trees annually. That’s hope for Haiti – and it’s real and it’s within reach.

12 Months and 475,000 Trees Later: There is, in Fact, Hope in Haiti

As we near the end of 2010 we face the plethora of impending “year in review” news stories and there’s no doubt that the January 12 earthquake, the October cholera outbreak and November failed presidential elections in Haiti will be focal points of those reports. As they should be. But my fear is that those reports will be frosted with the negative aspects of the condition of Haiti as a developing country in a world of hurt that is hopeless and full of hopelessness. I pray my fear isn’t realized because there exist many examples of progress and hope and success in helping to build back Haiti and those need to be shared and reported. And, while January 12 is a month away and that date in and of itself will spawn many earthquake anniversary stories, there’s no reason to wait until then to share the story of Yéle Vert, an incredible success story in the making in Gonaives, Haiti.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the launch of the Yéle Vert project in Gonaives, Haiti. Yéle Vert is collaboration between Timberland, the Yéle Haiti Foundation and Trees for the Future. There are six nurseries that make up Yéle Vert in Gonaives – one central nursery on the outskirts of the city and five smaller nurseries in nearby farming communities. At the central nursery there is a training center that has recently been completed – and in this simple building, farmers gather to discuss the ongoing operation of the Yéle Vert program and receive training to improve their techniques so that they can, in turn, increase crop yields.

Farmers taking part in the Yéle Vert program gather in the newly completed Training Center.

In December 2009, Timberland, Yéle Haiti and Trees for the Future started to break ground on the first of the six nurseries in Gonaives with the goal of having all of the nurseries up and running at full capacity by May 2010. One month after beginning work on the first nursery, the earthquake hit and we were immediately faced with some very difficult decisions. Do we cancel plans to build out Yéle Vert in Gonaives and focus solely on earthquake recovery? Do we move Yéle Vert from Gonaives, an area that wasn’t immediately impacted by the actual quake but an area in need of support nonetheless, to an area closer to Port au Prince in an effort to support a long term recovery effort there? Or, do we carry on as planned with Yéle Vert and also do as much as we can to support earthquake relief and recovery?

Within a week of the quake striking we had made the decision with Yéle Haiti and Trees for the Future to carry on with our work in Gonaives because the work there, we knew, was far too important to walk away from or delay. Also, we figured if we could build a successful model in Gonaives, we could expand Yéle Vert to other areas throughout Haiti. To stay in Gonaives meant we could likely build success and derive key learnings much faster than if we established the program in an area hit hard by the quake.

Haiti’s status as the more environmentally degraded and poorest country in the Western Hemisphere has been widely documented. Less than 2% of the country’s original forests remain due to a long history of unsustainable land-use practices and a continuing dependence on trees for fuel wood and charcoal for cooking and heating.

Just as well documented is the reluctant and cautious nature of the Haitian people to accept help from NGOs and private sector companies. As we started to build the six nurseries, each in a different village, we learned straight away the importance of engaging the local farmers and other citizens in the villages in a dialogue about what is important to them when it comes to planting trees on and around their land.  Thanks to Timote George, a native of Gonaives and the Yéle Vert project manager and country manager for Trees for the Future, the message of Yéle Vert was delivered to the local farming community in a very diplomatic and engaging manner. While skepticism among the locals was evident, they were willing to give Yéle Vert a try by volunteering to help run the local nurseries. In return they would receive agroforestry training, non genetically-modified seeds for their crops, and trees planted on their lands that would help increase crop yield by restoring essential nutrients to the soil and helping to bring back natural habitats for insects, birds and other animals crucial to productive agriculture.

Yéle Vert administration building nearing completion,
with Trees for the Future’s Timote George on the right.

In May 2010, within four months of breaking ground on the first three nurseries, the farmers were planting seedlings from the nurseries in to their land and on adjacent deforested hillsides. In June and July, more than 100,000 trees were planted and the final three nurseries were constructed.

Trees at the Yéle Vert central nursery ready to be transplanted by farmers to their fields.

Looking back is important … but a true retrospect needs to acknowledge the good that’s been achieved, along with all the hardships and challenges Haiti and its people have suffered.  Stay tuned for a follow-up post on the current state of the Yéle Vert project, how our farmers are coping with the widespread cholera outbreak, and what our vision is for this program and partnership in the future.

Help Us Plant an Additional 1 Million Trees in Haiti

Are you excited about planting trees? We certainly are. So much so that in addition to the real trees we’re planting around the world, we’ve launched a new Timberland Earthkeepers Virtual Forest application on Facebook.  By creating their own individual virtual forests and inviting friends to plant trees in them, members of the Facebook  community are helping to get real trees planted in Haiti. So far, as a result of the Facebook community’s adoption of the application, which was launched in October, 1,762 real trees will be planted in Haiti

If you haven’t checked it out already, go ahead and do so. By either planting trees in already existing virtual forests or by creating your own forest, you can help Timberland plant an additional 1 million real trees in Haiti.  It’s that simple. The more virtual trees and virtual forests, the more real trees we’ll plant in Haiti (up to 1 million) – above and beyond the ones we’re already planting there. Create a forest and invite your friends to do the same and then plant trees in each other’s forests too. Nature will thank you. Haiti will thank you and Timberland will thank you by planting more trees. And while you’re there, check out the videos that chronicle our projects in Haiti and share them with your friends. Then, share your ideas with other virtual tree planters from all around the world on the CONVERSATION tab.

We’re also working on some updates to the Virtual Forest, so stay tuned for those changes at the beginning of December.

And if you like the app, please nominate us for Most Creative Social Good Campaign for the Mashable Awards. Helping to spread the word about the Virtual Forest throughout the social media community equals more application users, which leads to more virtual trees, which means more real trees planted in Haiti. Let’s get to 1 million!

“They’re Gonna Feed Themselves”

“They’re gonna feed themselves.  They’re gonna be a proud, independent nation.”

Timberland President & CEO Jeff Swartz

To create real and sustainable community impact, you’ve got to involve community in the process.  Our second Yele Vert video highlights the critical role local residents play in the success of the Haiti reforestation program — from sifting soil and planting seeds to cultivating the trees that will provide long-term environmental and economic support.

To learn more about Timberland’s Yele Vert program — and to contribute to our reforestation effort in Haiti — visit www.Facebook/Timberland and start your own virtual forest.

Trees for Haiti

“Pouring money on top of dry land isn’t reforesting.  Reforesting is, you’ve got to come out in the dirt.  You’ve got to talk to people.  This is your home, this is our passion … how do we put those things together?”

Timberland President & CEO Jeff Swartz

We’ve just announced a commitment to plant five million trees in five years to help create sustainable solutions in Haiti and China — two areas plagued by the disastrous effects of deforestation.

To help illustrate the need for — and impact of — those five million trees, we’ve produced a series of videos about our Haiti tree planting project, Yele Vert.  Episode 1 appears below … and you can watch the entire series of videos on our YouTube channel.

Inspired to help?  Visit www.Facebook.com/Timberland and start growing your own virtual forest.  The more virtual trees planted, the more real trees we’ll put in the ground in Haiti.

Excited About Planting Trees

Since last Tuesday, September 28, I’ve been coming to work excited. I’m talking two-stairs-at-a-time excited. Excited about planting trees and excited to think about how to get other people excited about planting trees.

It was last Tuesday that I monitored Timberland’s quarterly stakeholder conference call about “The Real Impact of Tree Planting.”  (You can listen to the podcast here.) Our CEO, Jeff Swartz, hosts these calls to discuss with stakeholders (who range from other CEOs to non-profit leaders to influential environmental stewards to Timberland consumers), topics that directly impact Timberland’s CSR agenda. The goal of the call is to share with the participants ideas we consider, challenges we face and best practices we develop as we go about our business of making boots and being an environmentally and socially responsible company. Jeff and invited partners get the dialogue started and then the stakeholders share their thoughts, ideas and challenges.

The quarterly calls are stakeholder engagement at its finest. It’s a cool concept – stakeholder engagement. And guess what, it really works! I know because I witnessed it last Tuesday.

After Jeff and Dave Deppner from Trees for the Future, our partner in the Yele Vert tree nursery project in Haiti, set up the call with some really meaningful comments, the callers started asking great questions and sharing some valuable insight. These were extremely smart, engaged people from organizations like Alcoa, the World Wildlife Fund and the New York Restoration Project – people who really care about trees and are managing these truly impactful projects, just like the ones Timberland is supporting in Haiti and China.

The questions and the ensuing dialogue got me thinking about the commitment to plant five million trees in five years in Haiti and China that Timberland made at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) the previous week. I wondered; how can we a) get people to understand why we plant trees and why it matters; and b) get other companies to join us to exponentially increase the impact.

Yeah, increase exponentially. If Timberland and its partners, Trees for the Future and Yele Haiti, can build six tree nurseries in Gonaives, Haiti in less than six months by engaging and training the local farmers, who will eventually take ownership of the nurseries, imagine what can five companies like Timberland could do with the help of five partners like Trees for the Future.

If our six nurseries will produce more than 1 million trees per year at full capacity, imagine what 30 nurseries will produce in a year – 5 million! And if those 5 million trees we’re planting annually provide the local citizens with sustainable resources for food, fuel, shelter and watershed management – not to mention jobs – well, imagine how many houses we can build, homes we can heat, stoves we can fuel and mouths we can feed.

And imagine – this is what gets really exciting – if the local farming population, which is now trained and engaged at every level of forestry and agriculture, arrives at the juncture where their crop productivity has increased to the point where they can not only feed their families but have enough corn and rice and other corps left over to sell – for a profit – to the very companies that initially helped the farmer set up their tree nurseries!

And then imagine if each of those companies implemented creative ways, like social networks, to tell the story of the farmer and his tree nurseries to their consumers. The stories would excite the consumers and inspire them to tell their friends and those friends told their friends and so on and so on – to the point where the company gained more consumers, sold more products and were able to invest more dollars into building more tree nurseries.

Imagine. Isn’t it exciting to imagine?

So what’s next? I’m going to start reaching out to leaders at other companies and see if I can’t get them excited and interested in planting trees with us. And you? For starters, you can check out our new Facebook application where you can cause real trees to be planted in Haiti by creating a virtual forest. The more virtual trees and virtual forests, the more trees we’ll plant in Haiti – in addition to the ones we’re already planting there. And while you’re surfing around the app, check out the videos that chronicle our projects in Haiti and share them with your friends. Then, share your ideas on how to get people more excited about planting trees on the application’s Wall, or join the conversation on our Earthkeeper Forum.  If you’ve read this far, you’re now officially a Timberland stakeholder and as such, we welcome your engagement at any and all levels.

Imagine a company that wants to engage with its stakeholders about the simple act of planting a tree. Isn’t that exciting?

Margaret Morey-Reuner
Senior Manager of Values Marketing, Timberland