For a long time there hasn't been a really great way to give the simplest of environmental gifts, a tree planted in the honor of a friend or family member.  Many organizations like Rainforest Forever and NRDC allow you to gift trees, but the actual gift object (usually an 8 x 10 certificate) is not very appealing and is often outlandishly priced (NRDC now charges $10 for a single tree while Rainforest Forever charges $50).  Other organizations like Arbor Day Foundation charge $1 per tree (with a 10 tree minimum) while Trees for the Future claims to be able to plant a tree for 10 cents (with a 450 tree minimum).  The price points are all over the map, creating confusion in the market.  And in most cases the gift is neither very educational nor very fun.

MokuGift is trying to change all that by using the concept of the "virtual gift" -- a digital object that expresses a sentiment to a friend.  Virtual gifts took off like wildfire two years ago when they were introduced on Facebook.  For 99 cents, a person can buy a little icon representing a bunch of flowers or a candy bar or a martini.  The gift is then received and displayed on their Facebook profile page.  It sounds a little silly, but no one is laughing now.  It is estimated that Facebook has received over $35 million in revenue from these little virtual gifts.

MokuGift expanded the concept for the iPhone (a much larger screen).  The price is still 99 cents, but now the tree is interactive.  You have to figure out what to do to make the birds fly out of the tree, or to cause the tree to blossom.  And if you keep the app updated, the tree will have surprises for you at different times of the year.

Founder Hans Chung's vision is to have all 13 million iPhone users plant just one tree.  As the trees mature they will absorb CO2, which will offset the equivalent (he says) of taking 500,000 cars of the road.  Well, in my math its not quite that effective (a typical car produces 7 tons CO2 per year, and a typical tree will sequester about 50 lbs of CO2 (PDF) in the first 10 years of its life....50 lbs x 13 million : 2000 = 325,000 tons CO2 : 7 tons/car = 46,500 cars).  Nevertheless that is still a whole lot of CO2.  And trees give back to the environment in many other ways -- building soil fertility, replenishing the water table, and creating shelter for sustainable crops. 

I really do think tree planting is one of the most important things we can do to help rebuild the environment, solve the climate problem, and reduce poverty.  A tree really does make a great environmental gift.  So what MokuGift did is to make take the same virtual tree concept and allow you to email it so someone, so that they can see where their tree was planted (using google maps) and what it looks like:

You can purchase trees and learn more by visiting the MokuGift website.  To learn more about internet innovations check out my lecture called Environmentalism 2.0: can the Internet save the planet?

Give a virtual tree and start a real forest
MokuGift, which created the first virtual tree widget for the iPhone, now lets you give trees to your friends.