Originally aired on June 2 @ 11:30 AM - 12:00 PM EDT
An interview with Sagar Aryal, the CTO of Plant for the Planet, an organization of young Climate Justice Ambassadors with the goal of planting one trillion trees. Plant for the Planet is a participant in Project Galileo, Cloudflare's program providing free protection for at-risk public interest groups.
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening everyone everywhere. My name is Francisco, I am based in London and I work at the Customer Success team of Cloudflare. As part of our celebration for Earth Day, which is today, our employee resource group or ERG called Greencloud has been doing multiple events. This interview is one of our highlights and that's why we have invited a very special guest, Sagar Aryal, CTO of Plan4thePlanet. Thank you for joining us today. Can you please introduce yourselves to our audience? Hi, my name is Sagar, I'm 25 years old and I'm from Nepal. It's a country where you find 7 out of 10 tallest mountains in the world. I became a climate activist when I was 10 years old because I heard the mountains were melting and ever since then I've been involved with different climate initiatives and especially with Plan4thePlanet, I've been involved for more than a decade and almost half of my lifetime. For the last three years, I've been working as CTO of Plan4thePlanet, building solutions for restoration to achieve our goals, not only to plant trees but also to conserve and restore ecosystems around the world. Thank you, that's really impressive. So many ambitious projects that started so early in your career and you're still chasing those. That's really good and very remarkable. To give some more context to our audience, I want to share that I met Sagar because Plan4thePlanet is part of Cloudflare's Project Galileo and Cloudflare has the mission to help build a better Internet and that includes protecting free expression online for vulnerable groups. Therefore, in 2014, we launched this service free of cost to protect important and vulnerable targets like artistic groups, humanitarian organizations, among many others. Moving on to our next question, I would like to ask you if you can share with the audience how many regions are positively impacted by all the work that you do and how do you measure this? So Plan4thePlanet is a movement of young people all around the world. So we are based in a few countries. We have secretaries in several countries but our actions reach millions of people around the world and especially, for example, the Stop Talking, Start Planting campaign that we launched back in 2007 was seen and participated by millions of people around the world. At the same time, in 2011, we called the world to plant a trillion trees. So our actions are oftentimes very much about involving people and making people come to do something. So it's really difficult to measure the impact in those senses. But at the same time, the actions that we have led through these steps have made a long journey in turning into larger campaigns. For example, when we started the trillion tree campaign in 2011, we didn't know how many trees there were in the world or how much a trillion even was because we were just kids like 11, 12 years old at the time. So as we called the world to plant a trillion trees, we inspired researchers like Tom Crafter to study about how many trees there are in the world and come with an answer that we can actually plant a trillion trees and there's so much we can do about this. At the same time, for example, after this research were published, the World Economic Forum and different companies have started their campaign to restore these trillion trees. Along with this, we are also educating children and youth. So Plant for the Planet helps children to learn more about climate crisis. And we organize these academies around the world where there are more than 90,000 young people aged 7 to 14 years old who have participated in one day events where they learn what's happening to our world, what climate crisis is and what they can do to become part of this movement and ensure climate justice. So in terms of our impacts, we have helped educate the children. We have also helped lead the movement. But at the same time, we have planted trees. And as the owner of the trillion tree campaign, we have helped the world count the number of trees that are planted around the world. So we are working as a platform not only for young people to learn more about climate crisis, but also for the general community so that we can help reach the goal of a trillion tree campaign. That's really cool. All the massive scope that you're working on and having that awareness being raised as well. Sometimes it may not be the case everywhere. So what would you say is the most successful thing that you are doing today to raise this awareness, especially in terms of education? In terms of education, I think our program to educate children, I think it's a phenomenal program. Even though we have been impacted by COVID and have looked into different strategies, but especially Plant for the Planet is a very young organization led by young people around the world. And many of the leading people in Plant for the Planet are young children who have either joined these academies or who have heard about Plant for the Planet through these academies. And through this initiative, I think we've been able to not only educate young people, but at the same time, these young people are multipliers around the world. We have at Plant for the Planet, you can find 12-year-old public speakers who have given a speech in front of bankers. And this is an event in Germany where a 12-year-old ambassador was speaking in front of an event. And the next day, instead of highlighting about the event, all the presses they covered about her so that they could see what impact the children are trying to make. No, that's definitely a pretty good, similar to your early start there as a child at that moment and then grow with the idea. I think that that's really important and a very strong message to send. You just mentioned that, yeah, you also had some impact because of COVID. Can you tell us a bit more about what kind of things may have changed since COVID started? First of all, most of our academies, there's a workshop for children, they're held as a day-long event and inviting people from several schools in different parts of the world. And especially with COVID, we had to move these events online and especially transitioning young people who are often 7 to 14 years old online. This has been a challenge for us, but we've actually managed to do incredibly well transitioning this to online academies. And at the same time, we also launched Tree Talks, which are events where we invite some people who have experience about what trees can do or what we can do to make this world a better place. And we invite everyone, not only our ambassadors, but anyone who is interested to join these events. So that has been one of the changes in our way of working. It's really interesting to work on academies in person because you can work with other friends, you can come up with ideas, and moving that to online sometimes takes that interest away because you can't communicate with people in the same level as you would otherwise do in person. The second thing is, especially with the engineering team at Mindful of the Planet where I work, we were already working from home or working from anywhere, so we didn't have much impact on the way we did things. But COVID in general allowed us to rethink what we should do in terms of infrastructure so that we can support the future initiatives in ways how we can multiply our efforts around the world without actually moving our offices in different parts of the world. So it has allowed us to be more creative in certain ways. I'm curious to know then, what kind of challenges would these, for instance, schools have when moving to the online segment? Were there any particular blockers that you identify, for instance, maybe in some regions of the world it was easier to do that change, but maybe in some others where the access to Internet may not be as strong or if the Internet is not as available? How would that look like from this perspective? That is an absolute challenge that we currently have today. Some of our online academies, we focus mainly in Germany right now, and we have had some online academies outside Germany. But we are still looking ways because we know that majority of the world doesn't have a good Internet connection. And it's not just about the Internet connection, because when we're talking about children who are 7 to 14 years old, you need to have access to a computer. And many of the people who we were targeting in the past don't even have a personal computer, or they will have to ask their parents. So it's incredibly difficult for the message that we want to share. But at the same time, we are looking for ways on how we could change it. But again, just moving this online is not the solution. I think there would be better ways where we could take our entire curriculum to online, where people can see what we do. And we are trying hard to take it to online format, where you don't have to just attend the academy, but at the same time, you could get most of the information without participating in an academy. So would it say, and I'm thinking out loud here, like, for instance, doing a gamification of, I don't know, having a game that could potentially lead you to learning about these kind of things, and how to make things more sustainable? Absolutely. I absolutely agree that we could gamify a lot of this. And in fact, in an academy, what happens is the first 60 minutes of an academy is a child giving a presentation to other children. So it's most of the time a child who has previously attended an academy learned about that, and they're giving a lecture. And the second part is you play a world game where you learn about what's the current emissions around the world, who is emitting the most. So as a children, you ask, so where do you think there are the most people in the world? And you often look at the world map and say, for example, this part of the world looks larger. So it's inherently that there are a lot of people in that part of the world. But you'd be amazed to know in the academy as part of this process. And at the same time, when somebody asks you, now think about it, where people emit the most CO2 in the world? Then you all of a sudden go, maybe there are more people. So the people where there are more people. And this part of the learning makes it really creative. And I think there are many ways we could bring this online so that people could participate. But yeah, I think that will still remain a challenge for us to take this further so that we could educate the remaining billions in different countries around the world. Is there any particular story that you recall from these sessions with the children? Like something that really caught your attention, like, oh, wow, yeah, we could do this. Or this is something that it's so obvious, but people do not really do anything like that that comes to mind. I think it's, for example, the realization at many points, like what they could do at home. You know, for example, everybody knows that they have a light bulb in the house. But just realizing that this little impacts your actions have, for example, making sure you don't leave the tap open when you're brushing your teeth, or making sure you can reduce the time you open the refrigerator, or very small actions like this. Because at the end of the academies, we asked children, what can you do? And what can you as a group do to take away the learnings from this event? So I think in every academy, you come up with this wonderful charts with different kids writing the action plans. And I think this is all fantastic because they come up with their own vision. It's not somebody telling them what they should do. Yeah, I think that's very valuable. And not only for children, but for adults as well, in the sense that, for instance, having low energy light bulbs will definitely make a difference in terms of consumption. Yes, they are slightly more expensive when you buy them at first. But they usually last for a bit more than 10 years against one year. And also the consumption is, I think it's 2.5 to 3 times lower than the incandescent light. So yeah, I think that this could be a really good thing for pretty much everybody who would like to do their share. Because I think we can all contribute to that. So that's something that, if you don't mind, I would like to cover a bit later as well, to see what else can we do at our homes that require little to no effort to improve. And in fact, there's also a myth that going or doing things in a sustainable way is more expensive. But with all of these, you're actually saving money with all of these tips. That reminds me that you also mentioned that Plant for the Planet also produces its own chocolate in Germany to collect funds. And I think that's a really cool story. Could you please share more about that? Absolutely. So the story of the chocolate comes from a long time ago, I think it was 2011, 2012, when the founder of Plant for the Planet, Felix, he was giving a presentation amongst the chocolate producers. And he asked, is there any company here who wants to give 0 .01% of their annual turnover as a future fee, so that we could use that fund to educate children and to help plant more trees. And in that event, none of the companies gave us anything. So we had one of our ambassadors who joined one of these academies, and he said, what if we produce our own chocolate? And we joked during the event, but later, we really became serious and looked into it. And we actually found a producer who helped us produce a fair trade chocolate in Switzerland. And since then, we've planted over 6 million trees without chained chocolate. And the chocolate is one of the transparent ways, and also an example of partnership between different stakeholders. Because the sales of the chocolate is possible because different retailers in Germany forego their profits, making sure that Plant for the Planet gets 20 cents to plant trees. And at the same time, we make sure that the entire process is sustainable. So just from the place where the cacao for the chocolate comes or where the milk comes, we make sure the entire chain is fair trade and also sustainable, and it's good for the environment. And this isn't a story that I think every company should steal. Also, because in 2018, the chocolate got voted the best tasting fair trade milk chocolate in Germany by Stiftung Warentest. It's a company that rates different products. And this is an example of how companies can take part in sustainable movements by not only thinking about their profit, but also what they can contribute to the environment. Also, another example with the chocolate is every single bar of chocolate comes with a code which helps you plant 0.2 trees. So if you buy five chocolates, you plant your own tree. So in addition to planting trees, you also help educate children to become ambassadors of climate justice. But I think this is something everybody should steal. And I think it's an incredible idea for anyone to try sustainable business. Yeah, I think that it's indeed is really, really cool. I think one of the big turnoffs sometimes is, okay, we really want to come here and make things winner. But what about the money? But here, if you have this cycle, that helps out like that would actually make things better in the sense that, yeah, for people who talk money, this is like, okay, yeah, we can make that. The profits go there, or whatever revenue goes there. Six million trees, because of those chocolates is actually a really amazing number. So congratulations for that. And that, yeah, that also shows a bit of the circle economy. And there that you have with all of those cycles. All right, then the next question I have for you was to ask you a bit more. Before you use Cloudflare, how was it for you in terms of, let's say, reliability of the website or security or anything like that? Anything in particular that you would like to share about that? Absolutely. I mean, when I first joined Plant for the Planet in the capacity of a tech lead or managing the technical team, one of the challenges was we were struggling to keep our campaign website up because we wanted to share how many trees everyone was planting at the same time. So we were maintaining a leaderboard and at the same time, a real-time tree counter. In a way, we were not casting anything. We made sure that when somebody made a donation, the tree counter just goes up. If somebody plants a tree and registers on the website, it just goes up. And along with that, we were also gaining a lot of traction because there were researches being published about trees and the world was learning more about trees. So we were also getting a lot of DDoS attacks. And most of the days, 9 a.m. in the morning, the website is down. Or, yeah, we had struggles managing the infrastructure. So it was pretty difficult, in a sense, to not only maintain our internal infrastructure, but also the external one for our visitors, which was pretty disappointing. All right. Thanks for that. And then, curious to know, how did you hear about Project Galileo? What happened after Cloudflare was implemented? Yeah, personally, I knew Cloudflare a long, long time ago, but I heard about Project Galileo, I think, about two years ago. And, yeah, I read the Cloudflare blog, and that's how I came to hear about Project Galileo. Once we implemented it, we could make use of a lot of page rules. So that's one of the things. And also be able to control the casting and other mechanisms. So this allowed us to dynamically cast a lot of things, and also microcast a lot of dynamic content, which is unique to different users, as well. So this allowed us to reduce the traffic, and at the same time, do many changes on the edge, so that we don't have to modify our server configuration. So we are able to keep up with the traffic, where sometimes, if there's a lot of attacks, we could simply turn on the under attack mode. So this really allowed us to make sure that we were able to serve our customers, at the same time, maintain our website, so we didn't go down. But at the same time, as we implemented Cloudflare, it also got us a lot of time, so that we could migrate, and we could perform a lot of changes to better prepare our infrastructure, given the fact that the last two, three years, we have seen over 30-fold increase in our general traffic. And especially with campaigns, and a lot of reports about reforestation and trees, sometimes we have spikes that goes a thousand-fold our general traffic. All right, thank you for sharing that. I'm really happy to hear that Cloudflare helped out there. And it's always funny, now I was thinking about it, you are trying to save the planets a bit more, planting more trees, but you also have to deal with the website going down, things like that, that should not be the case. So super happy to hear that you see a positive impact there. Speaking of impact, I'm curious to know, how can people get involved at a personal level? For instance, I'm at my house, what kind of things can I do to make things greener? As you were sharing some examples earlier, but what else would you suggest that we can do in our houses, and also in our offices? What kind of things could potentially be done? I think, yeah, especially with Plant for the Planet, the simplest message is our campaign, stop talking, start planting. But of course, there's much more than tree planting you can do. For example, spreading awareness is one of the key things, because if next time you do something, it comes to your head that maybe I should do it differently. And this is very important, because changing behavior is a really difficult task. But at the same time, you can, for example, if there's a place where you can plant a tree, you could take a saw and go outside and plant a tree. That's the smallest action you can do. But if you can't plant trees yourself, you can find many restoration organizations of Plant for the Planet to plant a tree. But it's important that planting trees is not the solution for climate crisis, and it's only going to buy us time. But at the same time, planting trees is also not optional, because we are losing about 10 billion trees net every year. So an example would be, for example, changing your meals so that your meals come from a sustainable source, or changing your utility to a renewable provider. Just because something that came as you moved in your apartment doesn't mean that the energy that you're getting is sustainable. So if it's possible to change your utility provider, it might take a few phone calls, but you can change it to a renewable. And this puts a pressure throughout the energy chain, because more and more people would be asking for renewable energy, or just changing a light bulb on your house, making sure that you're saving some water, or at the same time, taking different initiatives to educate your friends. I think these are very little actions that you could do, or just turning the thermostat one degree down than what you normally do, and putting a better sweater or clothes, so that you are becoming less amateur in the sense of the emissions that we produce. Thank you. Those are really great tips that I'm pretty confident that everybody could do at their places. So thanks for that. Also, again, thinking about money, as people sometimes think, oh, the money is more expensive. No, not really. It's actually cheaper sometimes, especially, I'm not sure about other countries, but in the UK, I know that there are some energy providers that, even though they have 100% renewable energy, they are not really in the most expensive side, but they are on the mid-market, or sometimes even cheaper. So that's definitely something to consider. Absolutely. Yeah. Sorry, go ahead. It's okay. Absolutely. For example, in Germany here, I realized myself that green energy is much cheaper than the default provider, which is about 23% green. So just by making that switch, I could maybe save some euros, but at the same time, we could make a big impact on the climate crisis. So I think these are the things that we might not think by default, but we should take a look at how the energy situation is changing, and you might actually be saving a lot of money. So why not do it just for that? Yeah, definitely. I'm curious, any advice for those people who would like to contribute with time, or would like to plant trees themselves, anything related with Plan for the Planet? Is there any best way for them to find out of which organizations to approach in their home countries, other than going to your website, of course? What kind of things could they potentially do? So at Plan for the Planet, we've worked hard last three years, especially in our technology, to build a platform for reforestation organizations all around the world. So don't think of Plan for the Planet as one organization. Think of it as a movement that's bringing reforestation organizations and the warriors who are working on the ground to restore our ecosystems. So you can find many of these projects on our platform. You can find the contact information. You can support them directly. Plan for the Planet takes no commissions from any donations you make to these projects. 100% of the donations that you make to these projects go directly to them. That's one way of supporting them. The next is, for example, if you want to take action yourself on the ground, you might want to think, for example, if you're planting trees, you want to know if you're finding the right species to plant, because at certain places, just planting trees might not be helpful for the climate. And this is something researchers are still working on. And there are actually research that shows planting trees in certain parts of the world might actually be harmful for the climate crisis. So it's very important that there's good research on how campaigns that you organize are handled and also the species that you plant. And yeah, I think the easiest way is visit the Plan for the Planet website. You can find over 160 resources and projects around the world by over 80 or 90 organizations. And they should be near you. And if not, just send us a message. And if you'd like to join, you could also join us on the platform for free, of course. Thank you for that. I'm curious to know, as there are a lot of resources and you have worked in over 150 projects, what is one of your favorite success stories? Maybe you have a lot, but what are one of the highlights of a success story of the positive impact that you generated? Especially, yeah, for example, Plan for the Planet has its own reforestation campaign in Yucatan, Mexico. This is where we saw high-quality restoration is possible with a cost of one euro per tree. We started this project back in 2015, planting trees, and today we planted over, I think, 7 million, 6 million trees or something like that. And we're planning to double our capacity every year. But at the same time, Plan for the Planet is, we are not going to meet the one trillion tree goal ourselves. And just like all our actions, we need the global community. And to show the world that it is possible, Plan for the Planet actually bought our office at the train station in Germany, which now produces more energy than the train station consumes itself. So we have a solar on the top, we have geothermal. So this is an example of how organizations could set an example so that we could inspire other people, so that when an ambassador goes to share an idea about what they could do sustainable, we make sure that we have tried these things and we have set good examples, just like the chocolate and just like the project. I think these are some of the amazing stories that we have managed to write ourselves in the last few years. No, that's definitely very impressive. So congratulations for all of those achievements. Hopefully, after this session, a lot of people will go to your website and get to know more about Plan for the Planet, as well as many other tips on how to go greener, more sustainable. And for the looks of it, we are coming to the end of the session. So I wanted to thank you again, Sagar, for your presence here, for sharing a bit more of what you do with your colleagues. With that in mind, yeah, we definitely encourage the audience to go to the website, think of your house, what kind of changes could you do, check who is your electricity provider. You can check online probably rather quickly or not, whether they are a green energy provider, if it's maybe a small percentage, as Sagar was saying, would you consider another provider? There are lots of sites where they compare the prices, so you can definitely look into that as well. So with no further ado, thank you so much, and have a great rest of the week. Thank you. So you