Since April 2010 German car manufacturer smart hosts its ‘urban stage’ all across Europe – a contest that seeks to put creativity and innovation at the heart of planning for our future cities. At the smart urban stage‘s Belgian edition, WeForest, an international non-profit organisation based in Brussels, won first prize. The NGO advocates worldwide reforestation to achieve global cooling by increasing cloud cover. In short: WeForest plants trees to fight climate change. So far about 1 million trees have been planted – quite a number. Additionally the organisation tries to help local communities to restore degraded land while also addressing related problems as poverty, water shortages or soil erosion.
Tomorrow the winners from the local urban stages all over Europe will come together in Frankfurt, Germany, where the final prize will be awarded. In the run up to the big day we had the chance to speak to Marie-Noelle Keijzer, CEO of WeForest.
Congratulations for winning the urban stage Belgium. What has changed for you since the award?
The award helped us immensely. WeForest has been growing very much ever since. Our project has been exploding : 1 million trees have been planted since we started. We even have to reconsider the size of our organisation as until now we have only been working with volunteers. It feels good to be recognized and it is very important for the motivation of the team.
How did you use the 10.000 euros you received as a prize?
We used the whole sum to bring forward our mission. The best way to do this is planting trees, our core activity. With these 10.000 euros we were able to plant as much as 20.000 trees – this time predominantly in Madagascar.
We are especially proud of the simplicity of the solution: The more trees there are, the more clouds exist to cool the earth.
What is the one thing that makes your organisation stand out? What are your biggest achievements, what are you especially proud of?
We are especially proud of the simplicity of the solution. Climate change is obviously a big issue nowadays and many people just focus on technical and rather complex solutions. But something simple as planting trees actually helps to fight climate change. The more trees there are, the more clouds exist to cool the earth. I think we might even be the only ones promoting this research. Something I am also very proud of is that all the people involved are volunteers.
You have projects all over the world – who are your partners on the ground? How do you choose them?
We mainly work with a network of organisations supporting the so-called permaculture – an international movement seeking to restore the planet, not only in the area of agriculture but with an holistic approach that for example also takes social factors into account. It is very important for us to work with local NGOs, people on the ground who know the specific circumstances and needs of the locality. This is necessary to make sure that the local population benefits from the projects.
We are not against cars or planes, we just think that all the travelling we do needs to be compensated by planting trees.
What are the obstacles you encountered regarding the implementation?
The obstacles we are currently facing are all very much linked to the economic crisis. Money is scarce and companies are more reluctant to spend money on projects outside of their core activity. This makes it rather difficult to get funding.
How did you find out about the smart urban stage and why did you decide to participate? Did you not hesitate to participate in a contest sponsored by a car manufacturer?
Actually someone from smart approached us because they really liked our project. We did not hesitate as smart is a company which is very much committed to the environment and is on the forefront of trying to find ecological solutions. Driving cars is not opposed to our vision. We are not against cars or planes, we just think that all the travelling we do needs to be compensated by planting trees.
Have you had a look at your competitors? Is there a project that especially impresses you?
I was very surprised how diverse and different the participating projects are. I find it fascinating how much creativity this contest unleashed. It is very inspiring to see all this enthusiasm.
We want to create a global movement : In total, 2 trillion trees need to be planted and we cannot do this on our own.
No matter if you win the final prize or not – what do you envision for the future of WeForest? What would you like to achieve next?
Our goal is to plant 1 billion trees. We are very eager to continue our work to achieve this. As we mainly work with volunteers it is also very important that we keep having fun while doing something good for the planet. Furthermore we want to create a global movement : In total, 2 trillion trees need to be planted to cool the earth and we cannot do this on our own. But what we can do is create a worldwide movement and make more people share and support our vision.
If our readers are interested in supporting your organisation, what should they do?
What helps us the most and has the biggest impact is financial support. They can visit our website and donate online. We also look for more volunteers, so whoever is interested in that should contact us. It also helps to just talk about us, so that more people find out about our project and we get more publicity.