To celebrate our official partnership with Plant-for-the-Planet, over the next couple of months we’ll be debuting special edition blog posts discussing the inspiration behind the organisation, the work they do, and what you and your children can do to help stop the climate crisis. Learn more about La Coqueta’s commitment to planting a million trees by 2024 here.
Meet Felix Finkbeiner
La Coqueta spoke to Felix Finkbeiner, who founded Plant-for-the-Planet in 2007 when he was just 9 years old, and his father Frithjof. Inspired by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai’s initiative to plant over 30 million trees across Africa, Felix developed the idea that the children of the world could plant a million trees in every country on Earth to help offset the damage of climate change. Now a worldwide movement responsible for planting over 13.6 billion trees, Plant-for-the-Planet has increased the goal of the initiative to plant a trillion trees.
We caught up with the environmentalist and his father, to discuss the beginnings of Plant-for-the-Planet and evolving the team…
We are so inspired by the work you do at Plant-for-the-Planet. What made you start thinking about the climate crisis at such an early age?
In January 2007, when I was in the fourth grade, my class teacher worried about the extremely mild winter and encouraged me and my classmates to think about the climate. During my research, I came across the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Professor Wangari Maathai. She has planted 30 million trees in Africa with many women within 30 years to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis and to empower women. That was when I had the idea: "let's plant one million trees in every country on earth!" Just a few weeks later on the 28th of March, we planted the first tree in front of our school near Munich, two journalists reported about us and many other schools all over Germany followed our idea. This was the beginning of Plant-for-the-Planet.
As a young boy, what was it like to start a charity organisation for a greener planet?
I intended to save the polar bear, my favourite animal at that time. Shortly after I realised it was not just about the polar bear or a greener planet, it was about us humans. We made a sticker with polar bears holding a sign: “save the humans”. To be honest, when it began, it was just part of my homework. I never expected that this movement would one day become something so powerful. In the beginning, my principal, teacher, and fellow students helped me. For example, the high school graduates Gregor, Sascha and Christian made a website for us, more than 100 students helped to send letters to other schools, my two sisters Franziska and Flurina and my parents always helped and thankfully they still do! It was a competition and it was also fun to see how it spread.
More and more children wanted to join our movement. At first, we could handle this in the family, but it became more and more. After some months I asked my parents whether a first employee could work in our guestroom under the roof, as we students could not follow the many emails every day. My father explained to me how much an employee would cost and if I would raise the money. We contacted a dozen companies, I gave presentations, and in one on the 8th of November 2007, the CEO of Toyota Germany was in the audience. Shortly after we signed a four-year contract and [were able to] hire Maike who is still on our team.
In Spring 2008 we started to organise planting parties on Saturdays in many cities in Germany. Soon we expanded the planting in one-day workshops and empowered children on how to spread the word. Overall we have organised over 1,500 of these Academies in 74 countries with 88,000 participants. Maike was setting up a secretariat that organises our academies for children who would like to become Climate Justice Ambassadors and manages the donations. My parents tried to start an organisation where children have [political] voting rights. After they realised it was not possible in any country in the world, they established a foundation and my father explained that he would volunteer as temporary management for a maximum of ten years and then hand it over to us, which he did in 2019 - the Plant-for-the-Planet Foundation. This enables many children to work for their future.
Meet Frithjof Finkbeiner
As a parent, it must be inspiring to see your child become so preoccupied with the climate crisis. How did it feel to have a little boy who was so invested so early on?
When Felix had the idea to plant a tree at school with his classmates, we naturally supported him to make it happen. What we could not foresee was that two journalists would be covering the event of the planting of the first tree, thus making Felix's idea known throughout the country. One year after this first tree, on the 22nd April 2008, [there] were over 500 reports about Felix in the news. My wife Karolin and I were shocked. So far we had been proud of what Felix organised, but understood that we had to protect Felix and his childhood. As we did not want people to [spot] him we decided to protect him, and developed the concept of academies. Felix empowering other children would at the same time protect him from being media-hyped as a ‘#light-person’. We learned that there were hundreds and thousands of children who were as invested as Felix. Working together with these wonderful children, we decided to found the Plant-for-the-Planet Foundation for them, and helped to set up an office to relieve him and his colleagues. We made the decision when the climate negotiations in Copenhagen failed in December 2009 and humankind did not agree on a binding global contract for [saving] the climate. With that day, voluntary reforestation assumed a key role.
Is this passion something you decided to instill in him from an early age?
You can't teach a child something like this. It was simply always his special way to get to the bottom of things and ask questions. At our kitchen table we hardly spoke about cars or soccer, but about global injustice, population growth, and climate crisis... but we never spoke about trees in that context. Our three children grew up with an understanding of a global context, and had parents engaged in several global initiatives. Felix saw that if you want to change something, you can do it. And he applied the same principle to himself and his idea.