A Green Movement with 300 Million Participants and 13 Million Trees

7 min read 

In April, Pandaily went to Ordos, China with Ant Forest and its users, to participate in a green movement involving 300 million people — Ant Forest. Ant Forest is a special feature of Alipay, a payment app and platform under Ant Financial, that was created as a social corporate responsibility (SCR) project. As the number of Internet users in China reached 772 million in December 2017, with 97.5% of them using mobile phones to surf the Internet, Ant Forest allowed more than a quarter of Chinese netizens to participate in charity programs through the mobile Internet.

Personal carbon accounts and virtual tree planting

When you decide to activate the feature through the Alipay app, Ant Forest will open a carbon account for you. There is a list of 16 different actions that you can perform in real life to reduce your carbon footprint; these are activities such as using public or green transportation, buying tickets onine, going paperless in the office, and more. You can then claim carbon points for the actions you’ve performed every day and save them into your personal carbon account. These points can then be used to water and grow your own virtual trees on Ant Forest.

After the virtual saplings have grown to become virtual trees with the constant watering of carbon points, Ant Financial and their charity partners will plant real trees somewhere in the world. This is their way of motivating users to form more carbon-reducing habits.

Ant Forest UI

In addition to planting trees, Ant Forest is exploring other innovative SCR models. In September 2017, Ant Forest launched a land protection project, where users can “adopt” or virtually claim five square meters of forestland and protect the it with NGOs.

On the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Ant Financial and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) also jointly launched the Green Digital Finance Alliance (GDFA), to explore the possibility of promoting Ant Forest carbon accounts globally.

Mr. Erik Solheim, Under-Secretary General and Head, UN Environment, Ms. Doris Leuthard, President, Swiss Confederation and Mr. Eric Jing, CEO, Ant Financial Services Group

300 million users and 13.14 million real trees

In August 2016, Ant Financial officially launched Ant Forest on the Alipay payment platform. In March of 2018, over 300 million people, or more than one fifth of the Chinese population, participated in the Ant Forest project, with a daily carbon emission reduction of 8 thousand tons.

By the end of 2017, 13.14 million real trees had been planted and 12111 mu (8 k㎡) of forestland were adopted. The Ant Financial company has been in cooperation with environmental NGOs, such as the Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology (SEE) and the China Green Foundation. They jointly plant trees and maintain forests in Alxa, Ordos and Bayannur in Inner Mongolia, and Wuwei in Gansu Province and other regions. They have planted nearly 12.14 million saxauls, 1 million willows, and 3000 scots pine trees.

saxauls
saxauls in No.1 plots of forested land

Xie Mingyu, the deputy director of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region afforest workstation, said that the Ant Forest project brought hope of green to Inner Mongolia. Since last year, Ant Forest project has and is planting 17 million saxauls, 14 million willows, and 710,000 scots pine trees. The trees are planted in five cities: Bayannur, Ordos, Chifeng, Tongliao and Alxa. When projects are finished, Inner Mongolia will have another 360,000 mu (240 km²) of forested area, which is an amazing figure.

Satellite monitoring of trees and field visits

With the introduction of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, drones and remote sensing satellite, users can now see directly the real impact of their actions.

Ant Forest works with GaGo Group to monitor trees via satellites. Two remote sensing satellites took images of the desert regions in Inner Mongolia before and after the tree planting to show users how their every day actions can positively impact the planet.

desert regions in Inner Mongolia before(left) and after(right) the tree planting

In order to enable 300 million users to watch their seedlings grow up, Ant Forest and XAIRCRAFT jointly launched a new function enabling users to see the trees’ growth. XAIRCRAFT intelligent monitoring stations take photos and sends them back everyday in part of the region. Assisted by drones, managing staff can accurately calculate the change of tree number and their health status. Users can see the growth of saplings thousands of miles away on their mobile phones.

XIOT Field Monitor

On April 24, a delegation consisting of members of the press and eight Ant Forest users from different parts of the country visited the No. 89 and No. 95 plots of forested land. The total area of the two forests is 7,726 mu (5150,000 ㎡), where 1051,000 willows were planted. The delegation also visited the homes of local farmers and got to hear the experiences shared by Ant Forest project director, the deputy director of afforest workstation, staff from XAIRCRAFT and Gago Group, as well as local farmers.

No. 89 plots of forested land
No. 95 plots of forested land

At the end of the trip, farmers, staff, media and users together planted nearly 100 willows under the guidance of planting experts, and broadcasted the event.

Fintech and public welfare

On March 12th, Arbor Day in China, the chairman and CEO of Ant Financial Jing Xiandong said that Ant Forest is planning to invest more. It is expected that their total investment in ecological protection will exceed 500 million yuan ($79M) by the end of 2018. If the 300 million Ant Forest users continue to participate actively, the next five years will see an afforestation area of 6 million mu (4000 k㎡), the size of five New York Cities.

An Ant Forest was born under the backdrop of a green financial strategy proposed by Ant Financial. The plan was for Ant Forest to open a carbon account for every user, record their daily low-carbon activities, plan real trees for virtual ones to encourage users to adopt more environmentally friendly behaviors. This model is turning doing good into an every day action. Whether it is through walking, or other points generating activities like mobile payments, or paying for utilities, the every day actions are adding together to contribute to public welfare, to growing a tree in the real world. It is the action of using the Internet mentality to diversity the way NGOs and SCRs operate.

The openness and connectivity of the Internet has made everyone an important node in this movement, letting technology to play its part in doing social good. Internet connected the virtual world with the real world, and expanded the scale of ecological protection. This innovative method easily accepted by the younger generations are helping those born after the year 1995 to become more aware of and to take action in environmental protection.

Growing in the Ant Forest are not only trees, but also the spirit of exploration and innovation of the Chinese youth. There is a limit to how many trees can be planted in the future, but there is no limit to how far innovations can go.

Ant Forest Milestones

  • In August 2016, Ant Forest was established.
  • In September 2016, Ant Financial signed a strategic cooperation agreement with UNEP. Erik Solheim, UN Deputy Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNDP, used the Ant Forest feature to experience it.
  • In January 2017, Ant Forest users exceeded 200 million.
  • In January 2017, Ant Financial and UNEP jointly launched the Green Digital Finance Alliance (GDFA) on the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, exploring ways to promote Ant Forest globally.
  • In March 2017, Ant Forest users visited the forestation site for the first time.
  • In September 2017, Ant Forest launched the land protection project, enabling the public to adopt existing unmanaged forests to help restore forest ecology in addition to planting trees.
  • In September 2017, Ant Financial ranked third in the Fortune magazine’s Change the World List of top 50 companies. It is mainly due to Ant Forest that Ant Financial made the list.
  • In November 2017, Ant Forest worked with GaGo Group and XAIRCRAFT to launch tree monitoring features via satellites and drones.
  • By the end of 2017, 13.14 million real trees had been planted and 12111 mu (8 k㎡) of land were adopted. Ant Forest had planted nearly 12.14 million saxauls, 1 million willows, and 3000 scots pine trees, covering an area of more than 190,000 mu (126.67 k㎡).
  • In March 2018, Ant Forest users exceeded 300 million.
  • On March 12, 2018, Ant Forest announced its plans to increase investments in ecological protection, and the total investment in ecological protection is expected to exceed 500 million yuan ($79M) by the end of 2018.
  • In April 2018, Ant Forest users visited the site for the second time.
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