The Enel forest has almost 74,000 trees, and they all have a name, just like the farmers who planted them and now nurture and protect them. The first was planted in 2011, the most recent just a few days ago, for a project linked to the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.
This has all been made possible by Treedom, a startup founded in 2010 in Florence by Federico Garcea and Tommaso Speroni. The two both used to enjoy playing Farmville, a videogame that enables players to create their own virtual farm. In the space of just a few years, however, they have created a real forest spread across 14 countries around the world, from Italy to Africa, Latin America, and Asia, thanks to a web platform that enables users to take part in environmental and social sustainability projects by planting trees.
Eight years of collaboration with Enel
“Our relationship with Enel has been fundamental – we developed our first project for a large Group with them, and this experience taught us how to work with other large companies, not just utilities,” says Federico Garcea in Treedom’s headquarters in the hills of Florence, surrounded by a natural wooded landscape (“I spend more time at work than at home, so I want a pleasant workplace”).
The collaboration was launched eight years ago and has gradually broadened its scope. “At first we worked with the Communications and Market divisions on sponsoring musical events and the Enel Premia Loyalty programme.” Then came partnerships on important days like Sustainability Day and Earth Day, when our Group gave clients postcards enabling them to have a tree planted on their behalf. Last year Treedom helped make Enel’s Capital Markets Day sustainable by planting 700 trees in Sicily and Colombia. “This year we’ve collaborated on a very interesting project, Race to Change, a good example of how it’s possible to engage users and give them responsibility. The combination of such a sizeable client pool and a large Group like yours can be a crucial driver for change to raise public awareness about these matters. In recent years Enel has gained a certain reputation in the context of green issues.”
Integrating sustainability into the business
An almost natural harmony has developed between Enel and Treedom. “Personally I share Enel’s open innovation vision. Not many Italian companies seek innovation across the world and leave startups free to develop their own ideas,” Federico Garcea continues.
There’s also a harmonious approach to the decision to integrate innovation and sustainability. “Our activities are based on the idea of integrating innovation and sustainability. Nine years ago, only a few companies thought it was possible to integrate sustainability into their business – Enel was one of them. Now, however, many companies are committed to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and their CEO’s take a direct interest in these activities. Sustainability has become mainstream, it operates at every level and stimulates the entire company.”
Treedom is proud of its work. “Planting a tree is one of the oldest things in the world, but making this process digital and monitoring the tree’s growth is no easy task – we are currently the only web platform that enables users to plant a tree remotely and follow its progress online.” The startup works with 850 companies and 20 projects around the world; 624,000 trees have been planted with the involvement of 36,000 farmers. The online community has 220,000 users, people who have received trees as gifts or have planted them to celebrate a new baby, wedding or birthday. Every tree has a name, is geo-localised and constantly photographed “because we sell reputation to companies, we have to take things very seriously,” says Federico Garcea. The Enel forest stretches over seven countries (Italy, Colombia, Cameroon, Kenya, Senegal, Haiti and Nepal) and helps absorb over 23 million kilos of CO2.
From the environment to social development
Treedom’s mission is both environmental and social – every project helps improve the life of local communities and encourages micro-enterprise, from areas confiscated from the Mafia in Southern Italy to earthquake-hit regions in Haiti. “We help fill the gap between the moment when the fruit tree is planted and the time three or four years later when it starts to provide a yield for the farmer. In Kenya, for example, we’re in contact with project leaders who supply the plants for rural communities, provide training and then harvest and sell the fruit, redistributing the profits through a cooperative model.”
Two agronomists and a forestry expert from Treedom travel the world to monitor the projects while communicators, graphic artists and IT technicians at the Florence offices work on the web site, which is now communicating in five languages. “We’re not a typical internet company – our startup was born on a sofa, not a garage,” jokes Federico. That was where, playing Farmville with Tommaso, he dreamt up Treedom, the tree of sustainability.