How does one decide to start a reforestation project? PLANT-MY-TREE® founder Sören Brüntgens in an interview.
Mr. Brüntgens, what is the central idea behind PLANT-MY-TREE®?
Sören Brüntgens: We can’t go on as we are and continue to deplete natural resources. I want to effectively counteract man-made climate change by planting trees.
How did you come up with the idea of PLANT-MY-TREE® in the first place?
Sören Brüntgens: I already thought about it in the 90s, actually it started even earlier. In the 80s, dying forests were already a big concern for me. The idea of getting actively involved in climate protection has been fermenting in me for a very long time. I signed green electricity contracts very early on, drove an environmentally conscious small car, but all that never went far enough for me. I didn’t just want to stand by and watch any longer. At some point I thought, you have to do something yourself, and then I came up with the idea: I will plant trees now. So I bought a 2-hectare plot of land in Remscheid (Germany) and planted the first 2,000 trees there.
Sören Brüntgens (Founder)
You have to do something!”
And how did it go from there?
Sören Brüntgens: It gave me an incredible amount of joy and also a certain inner feeling of satisfaction. No longer being idle, that was a good feeling and it then also encouraged me to expand the whole thing. I planted every single tree myself and it really surprised me what a single person can accomplish.
When I saw that the first trees were growing, I was very happy and that, of course, motivated me immensely to continue.
Of course, those around me also noticed. I only told them what I was doing and the people around me were thrilled. Many said they would also like to get actively involved in environmental protection, but didn’t have any ideas of their own. One day, an entrepreneur I knew gave me 100 euros and told me to use the money to plant trees on his behalf.
When was that?
Sören Brüntgens: I planted the first trees in 2007.
The spread of the word among my friends and acquaintances then took on a kind of momentum of its own. More and more people approached me, wanted to participate and donate. The number of trees planted increased rapidly and then the first large companies also asked.
Everything happened completely unplanned. In the beginning, I only wanted to do something myself. But more and more donations came in and suddenly PLANT-MY-TREE® was born.
What was the next milestone?
Sören Brüntgens: At some point, I received so many requests that I could no longer manage with my own plot of land, so I started looking for more, which was not so easy. In general, it doesn’t matter where we plant; climate change is not a regional problem, but a global one. But there is a lot to consider, such as soil condition, environmental impact, etc.
I also felt a lot of responsibility to use the donations properly. So I got more and more involved in the overall topic, accumulated knowledge, and exchanged ideas with experts. The larger a project becomes, the greater the demands.
How did you go about it?
Sören Brüntgens: At first, I simply planted trees. I wanted a natural forest to emerge with low wood quality so that economic recycling would be as unattractive as possible. But then I consulted with experts who made me realize that many tree species die naturally after only 40-50 years. So I started planting higher quality trees, these can be utilized after 80-90 years. The CO2 then remains bound much longer.
Everyone can make a
Who contributes to the costs and what kind of company is behind PLANT-MY-TREE®?
Sören Brüntgens: Everyone can participate by planting trees through a climate protection contribution. As an individual company, PLANT-MY-TREE® has the possibility to respond to the different wishes and requirements of our partners and supporters.
Why a single proprietorship? Why not set up an association or a foundation?
Sören Brüntgens: As I said, I wanted to do my own thing back then. I didn’t want to have long discussions and reach agreements with others. I just wanted to get started in an uncomplicated way. That’s why I didn’t set up an association, and I didn’t have the money for a foundation back then. I preferred to invest it in trees and land. Don’t forget that the basic idea of PLANT-MY-TREE® is to plant forests on owned land. This means that I buy land that at the moment – keyword foundation – still belongs to me. At the moment, I am not dependent on landlords who suddenly decide to sell their land. Otherwise, the whole idea wouldn’t be logical.
Now you’ve been doing your own thing for so many years, suddenly PLANT-MY-TREE® goes through the roof and is the talk of the town. Big companies are getting involved, the number of trees planted has skyrocketed, and sales have grown rapidly. How do you explain the success of PMT?
Sören Brüntgens: I am not the only person who is concerned about climate change. The whole world has woken up.
We are living in a time of growing awareness that we cannot continue to exploit and destroy our natural raw materials and resources.
Many feel helpless, don’t know how to contribute in a meaningful way. People around the world are really concerned about our climate and want to get actively involved – and at PLANT-MY-TREE® everyone can get involved.
In the meantime, large companies are calling us and don’t just want to donate. They give their employees 2-3 project days off and the management even comes along to spend days planting trees with their own hands. This is one of the reasons why I am now going to set up a foundation for PLANT-MY-TREE®.
But then what is the purpose of the foundation?
Sören Brüntgens: The foundation should secure the planted land in the long term and protect as many forest areas as possible. The areas will then be common property.
I want this to be guaranteed even after my death. But it should not be held responsible for, for example, misplanting. When you plant trees on this scale, as PLANT-MY-TREE® is doing now, you always have to expect that some will not grow.
Next year then the sole proprietorship will then become a GmbH (limited company), within which such damage can be compensated economically.
How do I have to imagine the first plots from around 2007 today? How does it look there? Is it now a Garden of Eden?
Sören Brüntgens (laughs): Ja, so ungefähr. Das sind richtig schöne, wilde Waldflächen. Es hat was von einer Naturidylle und ist somit natürlich ein wahrgewordener Traum.
How do I have to imagine the first areas from the time around 2007 today? How does it look there? Is it now a Garden of Eden?
Sören Brüntgens (laughs): Yes, more or less. These are really beautiful, wild forest areas. It has something of a natural idyll and clearly is, therefore, a dream come true.
What else is planned?
Sören Brüntgens: We’ve had a tremendous response, which I’m very pleased about. I have to find more space for this. There is absolutely no reason to be active only in Germany. On the contrary – the whole thing takes on a real dimension when we can plant trees across all borders. Our goal for 2020 is to plant one million trees worldwide, and we will do that wherever the climatic conditions are very good and the legal framework offers appropriate guarantees. Since 2007, I have planted 24 hectares in Germany myself.
Have you already located areas abroad?
Sören Brüntgens: Plans include Serbia, Croatia and Costa Rica.
Bees, Birds, Insects
What are your long-term goals?
Sören Brüntgens: I would like this foundation to become the largest private owner of natural forest. We want to create forests and bring forth species richness. Create feeding areas for bees and bumblebees and other animals that need the forest. I’m even thinking about buying natural areas that are worth protecting, so that they really do last forever.
How can those interested get involved and who is PLANT-MY-TREE® meant for?
Sören Brüntgens: Everyone, really. Environmental protection concerns us all. At www.plantmytree.de, those interested can get an idea and also get in touch with me. For example, we do planting events for companies as a team-building event, and we often have kindergarten visits.
Are you also being audited in any way?
Sören Brüntgens: Yes, we have obtained the German TÜV DIN ISO 9001:2015 certificate.
In the meantime, I’m getting advice from experts such as foresters. They know the soil conditions and which tree species are best suited where. They know the requirements of the animal world and are familiar with the climatic conditions. It’s important to avoid mismanagement here, and that can happen quickly if you don’t really familiarize yourself with the subject matter.
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