How can we approach young urban populations and inform them about the importance of forest use and protection? The easiest way might be to connect an important function of the forest and an important part of their life: recreation.
When we asked the participants of the “Mighty Forest Event” on Saturday, September 15th in Düsseldorf, what the forest means to them, said young urban population confirmed this connection. We were happy to hear numerous statements like “The forest is a place to relax”; “We enjoy the fresh air provided by the trees”; as well as: “I like to walk or do sports in the forest”.
As the name might suggest, the event was all about sneakers and forests. Afew, a fashionable sneakers store in Düsseldorf, designed and produced the sneaker “Mighty Forest” with a few extra details to support reforestation and to raise awareness of the situation of forests worldwide. The release took place in the framework of the “German Forest days” (Deutsche Waldtage), where organizations and institutions all over Germany organized events in and around the forests with a special focus on sports and recreation. The “Mighty forest” was limited to 300 pairs. As part of the project, Afew supports the planting of ten trees with the help of Plant-for-the-Planet for every pair of sneakers they sell. We as European Forest Institute’s Resilience Programme provided the project with the scientific knowledge behind the booklet which educates about crucial forest related facts and accompanied each pair of sneakers.
The Hofgarten park in Düsseldorf provided the perfect atmosphere, warmly welcoming the crowd with benches, snacks and drinks. After a short introduction by Afew, EFI Junior researcher Jakob Derks (forester practically and academically) held an entertaining speech, elaborating on forest cover worldwide, ecosystem services, deforestation and biodiversity loss, wood-based products and urban forests. Afterwards, the participants were encouraged to visit our little info table, where we provided them with an online test via QR code, and an interactive quiz with questions about wood-based products. The identification of these products had some tricky parts: Did you know that Viscose is partly based on wood pulp? Why is palm-oil or bamboo plant- but not forest-based? Which wood based product do we find when examining a sausage?
Especially the interactive quiz led to interesting discussions about tropical deforestation, mass conversion of tropical forest into farmland, consumption ethics, the lack of sustainable wood-based clothes, the need for sustainable forest management and urban forestry. We were asked why plantains were so common in city centers, and could surprise people with their high level of resilience when facing extreme weather events and pollution.
At the end of the event, participants were grateful for our input and openness for questions and took home not only a new pair of sneakers, but also got an idea about forest products and sustainable forestry, nature conservation and certification schemes, the need for forests to create healthier cities and positive outlook on Germany and its forests, which are in a comparably good condition due to close-to-nature forest management and measures for biodiversity protection.
Finally, it is important to stress that European Forest Institute as a scientific organization cannot promote any brands. But we can provide companies and brands, aiming at expanding beyond their regular target group, with science-based information – thus connecting knowledge to action.