The App to Help You Curb Your Smartphone Habit and Reforest the World at the Same Time

Want to spend less time on your phone and more time concentrating on the things that matter? What if you could plant a few trees at the same time?

Autor*in Marisa Pettit, 04.02.18

Want to spend less time on your phone and more time concentrating on the things that matter? What if you could plant a few trees at the same time?

Mobile phones have already shown the huge potential that they hold for sustainable development: from helping people gain access to clean energy, to enabling life-saving access to healthcare services and helping refugees reconnect with their missing loved ones, to name just a few examples. But in many parts of the world, reliance on mobile phones is often bordering on addiction, with recent research revealing that the average US citizen spends nearly three hours a day on their phone.

Forest is a productivity app that combines the Pomodoro technique and gamification strategies with a cute design and a unique environmental aspect. Set the timer for how long you plan to concentrate (which means not opening any apps or checking your email), and a virtual seed will be planted in the app. If you leave the phone alone it will start to sprout, gradually growing into a tree by the end of the session.

If you give into temptation and start using your phone, or browsing the websites on your blacklist, the tree will just wither and die. All trees that you manage to successfully grow are kept in a (virtual) forest and you’re awarded (virtual) coins for your efforts. 15 minutes of focus gets you 4 coins, 65 minutes gets you 22. The app can also be set to run in the background and give you detailed statistics of how many hours each day, week and month, you spend with your smartphone screen.

What about the environmental part?

In a nice twist, Forest allows you to turn your “virtual” forest into a real one, cashing in your virtual coins to pay for real tree-planting in the real world. This feature is only available in the premium version of the app – which currently costs just over 2 EUR – and each “real” tree will cost you 2500 virtual coins. Each user is able to plant up to five trees via the app.

Forest is currently partnering with the organisation Trees for the Future, which improves the livelihoods of farmers by revitalising degraded land in East and West Africa through tree-planting activities. The real trees are prepaid and preordered from the organisation and whenever a user purchases a real tree with their virtual coins, the organisation is informed and the tree planted. Trees for the Future currently has 14 projects underway in five countries and Forest claims to have so far planted over 270,000 trees.

Apart from the fact that it might seem tragic and ridiculous to some that we need a smartphone app to help us stop using our smartphones so much, there is another drawback too. Apparently, due to budgetary constraints, users can only plant five real trees, which means the impact of each individual is severely limited. But the company claims they are working on a way to allow people to plant more than five via some special time-limited events.

This short video lets you see Forest in action, alongside a couple of other productivity apps.

Forest is available as an app for Android and iOS and also as a web browser add-on for Firefox and Chrome.

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