Under a unique project run by volunteers, travellers across the world pay towards planting trees in this Balkan country.

Every time someone clicks online to book a trip anywhere in the world, someone else plants a tree in the Balkan country.

Sounds incredible? Because it’s precisely that—a unique project launched by a Macedonian trying to restore the green cover in the Mediterranean country where its notoriously polluted air kills more than 2,500 people every year.

And this is where Treebanks comes in.

“The innovative part of this initiative is that travellers can contribute to our mission to plant trees for free without any cost, the only thing they need to do is book their trip through our affiliated partners,” says Mihail Stevcev, the founder of Treebanks project.

It works on a simple concept. A small portion of the amount used to book the trip to everywhere in the world, through travel sites like booking.com, kivi.com or agoda.com, goes to the project to buy trees or plant seeds.

Treebanks aims to plant 100k trees per year and reach the 1 million mark as soon as possible.
Treebanks aims to plant 100k trees per year and reach the 1 million mark as soon as possible. (TRTWorld)

Dark clouds overhead

North Macedonia, which left former Yugoslavia in 1991, is reeling under severe air pollution triggered by several causes, including climate change, illegal tree felling and rampant use of fossil fuel to fire its power plants.

Faced with a crippling energy crisis, the country was forced last year to delay phasing out its two biggest coal-fired power plants by 2030, a three-year delay from its initial deadline of 2027.

The Western Balkans is one of the regions in Europe most affected by climate change, and experts say that this trend is expected to continue, severely affecting the health of people and leading to more premature deaths.

The Balkans United for Clean Air, a regional information and action campaign, had said earlier that exposure to the polluted air reduces fertility by 10 percent and increases the risk of miscarriages and stillbirths by 13 percent.

Most of the households use low-quality wood, coal and even textiles, plastics and waste to heat their homes due to lack of reliable gas supply and the high cost of electricity.

Under the Sofia Declaration of November 2020, the Western Balkans countries have pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Banking on trees

Working with the motto, ‘We are the saviours of planet Earth’, Treebanks is increasing the country’s green cover, one tree at a time. What makes the project so special is that all those involved are volunteers.

“So far we have planted 12,000 trees in every part of North Macedonia without any financial help. All of the funds for the trees come from bookings and additionally sales of TreeBanks t-shirts,” Stevcev says.

“As Treebanks, we are very proud that we managed to close the circle, from gathering funds to implementing the tree-planting itself. This positioned Treebanks as an important tree-planting player in North Macedonia, so big companies are contacting us when they want to do a tree planting,” he adds.

Treebanks works like a start-up in a small country where the local entrepreneurship ecosystem is not exactly world-class. Limited resources and infrastructure are also big challenges in launching start-ups in the country.

According to Stevcev, they have to use a very old-fashioned online payment system, because most of the world-wide services are not available in North Macedonia. This heavily constrains their scaling and innovations.

Despite all these shortcomings, the young innovator is hopeful about the project. “We are very proud of all our volunteers, especially the youngest ones. The age of our volunteers ranges from 3 to 70 years. We hope that from our existing volunteers, the future Treebanks’ers will arise,” Stevcev says.

For Stevcev, the long-term goal is to “turn travellers into eco-activists”.

“We want Treebanks to become the first thing our users think about when they are making travel bookings. Since the beginning, our vision is for Treebanks to become a framework that can be reused in different countries. In the near future we would like to have 100k trees planted per year and reach our goal of planting one million trees as soon as possible,” he adds.

Source: TRT World