Treetag cofounders Abhijith Kumar (left) and Mohammed Wazeer at a tree planting session. Photo: TikTalk Newsletter
Planting trees is a favourite pastime of celebrities and politicians these days. It provides good publicity, receives reasonable media coverage, and is quickly forgotten after a few months. Business entities are also joining in, as the carbon credit trade looms large on the horizon as part of the global effort to combat global warming.
This is where a Trivandrum-based startup sees a bright future for itself.
Treetag, founded by Abhijith Kumar Meenakumari and Aashuthosh B Sai, came up with the idea of creating a digital record for each sapling and regularly updating its condition through their website. Since its inception in 2021, they have already tagged over 10,000 saplings. They aim to bring transparency to tree-planting activities, which they believe will be crucial for future carbon neutrality schemes. Each sapling is geotagged by inputting the Google coordinates of the plot, and a verifiable database is compiled for public access.
The co-founders, who became friends while attending Kendriya Vidyalaya school in Trivandrum, both had a keen interest in the technical aspects of things. Subsequently, Abhijith pursued his education at Trivandrum Engineering College, while Aashuthosh graduated from Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Goa.
Initially, their journey involved exploring activities like garbage recycling, with the aim of promoting a sustainable environment. However, their focus shifted when they were presented with a challenge by an NGO called Thanal. It involved finding a way to create a digital database that could verify afforestation activities.
The inspiration for this task came from a green project named Carbon Neutral Meenangadi, which gained attention in 2017 as the first village aiming to achieve carbon neutrality. The young team was motivated by the challenge and embarked on developing a way to create a process through constant innovations.
Once they gained a better understanding of the challenges involved, the team at Treetag began offering tree tagging services to individuals who wanted to plant a tree to commemorate special occasions such as birthdays. However, this soon overwhelmed the team, as they realised that such activities required significantly more resources than their bootstrapped startup could handle.
As a result, they adjusted their strategy and started focusing solely on events where organizations or companies were planting trees as part of their sustainability initiatives. Treetag often collaborated with NGOs like Thanal, Suresta, and Rasta, who were responsible for the actual tree planting, sometimes on behalf of private companies.
The young team did everything that a startup typically does: sending emails, pitching their ideas to those willing to listen, and tirelessly working towards their dream. One notable instance that paid off was when they discovered an email in their spam folder from the other side of the world, inquiring if they were willing to tag trees in the Amazon forest in Brazil.
“At first, we weren't even sure if it was a prank, but we decided to respond anyway,” says Mohammed Wazeer, Treetag's Chief Technical Officer and another co-founder.
To their astonishment, the email opened up discussions with a United Kingdom-based company that was establishing itself as a corporate entity in the emerging carbon trading sector. As the talks progressed, the project expanded to a scale that the founders of Treetag had never imagined. They now have the ambitious goal of tagging millions of trees in the Amazon Forest, with the involvement of local tribes. The founders of Treetag are excited about the project but are unable to disclose further details due to corporate confidentiality reasons.
In India, Treetag has successfully implemented projects in collaboration with businesses such as Mahindra Logistics and Hyundai. They have also worked in cooperation with organisations like Young Indians and the Confederation of Indian Industry.
The purpose behind tree tagging is to provide validation for the afforestation work carried out by these groups. Treetag states that by visiting their website, interested individuals can access data on over 10,000 saplings planted in various parts of India, allowing for verification.
“We sometimes personally visit the sites and update the details. During the last World Environment Day, we went to the plot in Trivandrum where Kerala Tourism Minister Mohammed Rias planted a tree during the Environmental Day the previous year and uploaded the details along with a picture of the sapling. This information is now available on our website,” says Wazeer.
During this year's celebrations, Treetag announced a collaboration with APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University, involving over 16,000 students. This partnership resulted in the planting and tagging of more than 7,000 trees. As part of World Environment Day this year alone, over 2,000 saplings were planted in various locations across the state.
The scheme, implemented in conjunction with National Service Scheme units in different colleges, requires that students who plant saplings must monitor and update the data for a minimum of two years in order to receive a certificate of recognition for their efforts.
Even before their other initiatives, Treetag had been actively organizing efforts to involve school children in tree planting activities. “We have implemented this in schools located in rural and semi-rural areas, as many of them lack the necessary funds and resources to organise such events. We provide fruit tree saplings and encourage students and teachers to plant them in selected areas. With the help of students, we geotag each sapling and maintain a record on our website, which we update periodically. The response to these initiatives has been very positive,” says Wazeer.
However, not everything always goes according to plan, as the summer vacation break often results in the saplings being left unattended, with children staying away from school. This was evident in one school in the Kaniyapuram area of Trivandrum that had undertaken tree planting with the involvement of Treetag.
During a visit to the site a few months after the planting, TikTalk Newsletter found that very few of the saplings had taken root. In such cases, Treetag states that they encourage the NGOs they work with to take remedial measures and update the information. This approach also enhances the credibility of the social forestry efforts undertaken by various entities.
Wazeer explains that once the saplings reach a certain stage of growth, they can contribute to carbon-capturing efforts. However, he acknowledges that this stage is still a few years away, and for some trees, it might take up to ten years to mature. Nevertheless, the founders of Treetag are confident that they can establish a sustainable economic model once carbon-capturing policies become more widespread as part of the global initiative to reduce emissions.
During a recent interview with NoplanetB channel, Abhijith admitted that the carbon credit market currently remains unclear as the validation processes are still being refined. However, he expressed confidence that Treetag's generated data could be utilised in a couple of years to calculate emission levels and carbon credits, thus evolving an economically sustainable model.
Treetag has certainly planted a seed in a sector that has the potential to become a rapidly growing economic industry focused on sustainable business practices. This startup has grown into a healthy sapling, but only time will tell if it can reach the towering heights of the trees in the Amazon Forest.
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