Are you or your kids interested in saving the world by planting trees? Well, there is no need to go far and endure the sun and heat. Simply grab your smartphone, download the TreePlanet app and play the game.
It will transform your virtual trees into real trees free of charge.
Invented by two South Korean undergraduates who met during their mandatory military service in 2009, TreePlanet is a smartphone application that aims to build awareness on the issue of deforestation by making tree planting easy for anyone with an iPhone or an Android phone.
The game takes players through the entire process of tree planting _ digging, planting, adding fertiliser and watering the tree.
After passing level seven, a virtual tree successfully planted will automatically be transformed into a real tree in the country chosen by the player. The available choices are South Korea, Indonesia, Mongolia and Ghana.
Spending a moderate number of hours on the game, a person can plant a virtual tree in a couple of days.
In addition to choosing the country, players can also attach a personal message to the tree and name it. Pictures of it will be uploaded on Facebook as proof the tree has actually been planted.
While TreePlanet is virtually unknown in Southeast Asia, it has become popular in South Korea, Japan and China, especially among girls aged 13-24.
Jon Jungbien Moon, an assistant professor of international business at the Korea University Business School in Seoul and an evaluator at the Social Venture Competition Asia, said the game is very easy to play, and even five-year-olds like his son play it. The top player has planted 310 virtual trees.
"If half a million people play this game just once in Korea, there will be half a million more trees in the country," he said.
Since the app is free for downloading, funding is secured from large companies that advertise on the application to build a green image for themselves. The funds are then transferred to local non-governmental organisations (NGO) that plant the real trees, which in turn creates jobs and income.
The greatest benefit is to the environment as planting trees adds oxygen, fixes carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and improves wildlife habitats.
TreePlanet has partnered with the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, World Vision and local governments in South Korea in addition to the NGOs. Since the commercial introduction of the app last September, some 300,000 virtual trees have been planted, with 140,000 already been planted in the real world.
Planting a tree in the real world takes longer than in the virtual world, said Asst Prof Moon. However, all will be planted.
This year, the company will plant the remaining 160,000 trees.
In less than a year, the company raised US$1 million in funding from corporate sponsors, half of which went towards planting real trees.
The other half goes towards maintaining servers and research and development, both of which are extremely costly.
Asst Prof Moon said so far, TreePlanet is in good shape. It is is fully funded, especially by large corporations such as LG Electronics and the Hanwha Group, that advertise on the application. The social venture is expected to grow as carbon trading schemes begin in Korea and companies increasingly become interested in planting trees.
Like most businesses, TreePlanet faces issues related to the scalability and sustainability of the business model.
Asst Prof Moon said the company is aware it may face the issue of scalability. If the network of users grows exponentially fast at some point, then the pace of planting real trees will not be able to keep up with trees planted in the virtual world.
To address this issue, the game will be made more difficult. A new updated version with tougher features and competing elements will be introduced on Facebook this September.
Expanding the game to include endangered animal species is another option in the years ahead, said Asst Prof Moon.
TreePlanet won first prize at the Social Venture Competition Asia in 2011 for combining innovation and business while upholding a social cause.
After passing level seven, a virtual tree successfully planted will automatically be transformed into a real tree in the country chosen by the player.
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