A Dutch Internet entrepreneur is hoping a new dating website dedicated to reforestation might help lonely environmentalists hug something more than just trees.
DateForTrees.com, which launched last June, pledges to donate a planted tree for each of the site's daters every month of their paid membership. It's one of the most recent in a spate of environmentally conscious dating sites to launch over the last several years.
While Internet dating and environmental advocacy might not be the most intuitive business pairing, founder Ralph van Troost said last week it's the sort of novel, quirky mashup that might lead the site to greater success.
"Something that is unique has a greater chance of getting attention from the public and the media," van Troost wrote via e-mail. "I figured dating and reforestation — the environment — make a pretty unique combination, and they are both popular subjects."
The website is partnered with American Forests, a nonprofit conservation organization based in Washington, D.C. The group plants trees across the country to rejuvenate areas ravaged by wildfire, prevent soil erosion, stop pollutant runoff and rebuild endangered animal habitats. American Forests has planted more than 20 million trees over the last two decades, some of them in other countries, executive director Deborah Gangloff says. It tries to plant between 1 million and 5 million trees per year at a cost of about $1 each.
None of the planted trees are harvested, Gangloff says, and are placed in protected areas.
"It's wonderful to see this kind of interest from organizations you wouldn't normally think would be environmental or into tree planning," she says. "There's so much that is needed in terms of tree planting that we welcome sponsors."
DateForTrees.com must continue to grow before it makes a significant contribution to reforestation. The site currently has 188 members, and none of them owns a paid membership, van Troost says. He says he donated $530 to American Forests to get the mission started.
"It's very clear to people what happens with the donations DateForTrees makes," he says. "In fact, the name of the site says it all. I hope all of this will give the members of DateForTrees a sense of greater involvement with the environment, especially when compared to other [more passive] 'green' dating sites."
DateForTrees.com isn't van Troost's first foray into Internet services. He's received mention in several European press outlets for recently launched websites, including FootballFanFinder.com, a dating site for soccer fans. He owned another failed site called Tribyounal.com, which allowed people in a dispute to air their grievances online and have other site visitors judge the debate through a voting process — sort of like a real tribunal. He also tried to auction the world's most expensive e-mail address to no avail several years ago.
Whether DateForTrees.com will pan out is unclear, but more companies seem to be jumping on the environmental bandwagon each quarter. American Forests, at one point, proposed a partnership with eHarmony, an enormously popular online dating site, says Shawn Berriman, the organization's marketing and development officer. Other environmentally conscious dating sites have found success on the Web.
Planet Earth Singles, for instance, launched on Earth Day 2006 and considers itself a "green-friendly" dating site with more than 33,000 members, says Jill Crosby, the site's owner. General dating is already difficult for most people, let alone the eco-conscious who typically seek mates with similar environmental concerns, she says.
"It's difficult for singles to meet these days, period," she says. "Everyone's just gotten so busy. … You can go to different events and charitable fundraisers to meet fellow environmentalists, but who knows if they're single or if they're available or emotionally available. … I just know how important it is for green people to meet other green people. You don't want to be dating someone that's eating at McDonald's and leading a wasteful life. It just doesn't go together well."
DateForTrees.com could find a place for itself, Crosby says.
"I like that they're planting. That they're donating the trees," she says. "It's a good concept."
Whether the site succeeds or not, van Troost says, it's the concepts that interest him.
"I always try to come up with an idea for a project which is not centered around making money," he says. "I also prefer a project to be of some positive use to society. I think dating sites meet both conditions."
All the Valentine's Day coverage an eco-geek could ever want.