If you've been on Instagram at any point since the start of 2020, you've almost certainly heard of the account for a company called Plant A Tree Co. (@plantatreeco). They first soared in popularity last year, when they vowed to plant 100 trees for every repost of a now-deleted picture on their page. It appears that, as of late last year, they had several stories up on their Instagram page that have also since been deleted. They garnered thousands of more followers during the Australian bushfires this January, when they posted a picture of a kangaroo in the midst of one of the fires, which now has over two million likes. This is when their page really blew up, because they claimed that for every 100 people who shared that post to their story, donate one dollar would be donated to the Australia-based New South Wales Rural Fire Service, or NSWRFS. The catch? Each of those 100 people had to be following them, as well.
After January 9th, their account, while still open for the public to see and follow, was completely inactive. That is, until just a couple of weeks ago, after George Floyd was killed. On May 31st, they shared several graphic videos documenting police brutality not only toward people, but toward several animals as well. They called on people to share their post with others, and to tag people— including “celebrities and influencers"— in the comments to attract a larger audience.
This brings us to right now, and to the claims that this company, which seems to be fighting to help raises money for just causes, is all just a scam. Early this past week, the Plant A Tree Co. account uploaded a picture stating that each repost it received would count as ten cents they would donate to the Black Lives Matter Network. Now, you may be thinking, “I saw this posted on the stories of dozens of my friends and even put it on my own story!" and you wouldn't be the only one. I myself even reposted it without a second thought, and went on with my day. You may have thought when you reposted it that you were helping to do your part for the movement in some way or another, just like in January with the bush fires. However, there are some glaringly obvious and harmful pieces of evidence that show that Plant A Tree Co. is very likely not at all what it appears to be.
If you take a closer look at their Black Lives Matter donation post, the caption states, “[F]or every one hundred people who FOLLOWS AND REPOST [sic] THIS, we will DONATE ONE DOLLAR TO @blklivesmatter." This would mean that for each repost they received from someone who was following them, they would donate one cent. If you look at the actual picture that was posted, though, you see that one repost is said to be equivalent to ten cents donated. Although many people have called them out on this discrepancy, to the point where captions have now been disabled on the post, they still have not addressed which amount is the correct one. Moreover, if you scroll back to their post about the Australian fires, they caption of that post is almost completely identical to this one, with only the name of the cause and donation recipient changed.
Now, for as sketchy as all of that may look, it would not seem too bad on its own. Maybe they just made a typo. At the end of the day, they're just trying to garner attention and support for the cause... right?
If you go to their actual website (plantatreeco.com), you'll find that there is not a single bit of information on where this company is located. Their 'Contact Us' page is just a form that people can fill out, with no mention of any company email, phone number, or staff members. Their 'Blog' page includes only two blog posts (from September 1 and 2 of 2019). Both posts have several grammatical errors and are honestly laughable in length and information provided, considering this is supposed to be an environmentally-focused company. The posts were both written by someone named Dov Levin, for whom there is no background information, social media links, or proof of credibility. Not surprisingly, both posts conclude with a call on readers to buy their products, which they claim are made from recycled items, in order to “do their part".
The website claims that they will plant one tree for every item sold. However, for as large as their social media following is, and for as many items as they logically would have sold at this point, they boast of planting 6,500 trees as of right now, which seems incredibly disappointing. Going back to the post that made them so famous in the first place, where they promised to plant 100 trees per repost, this would mean that they only planted enough for 65 reposts, even though that original post had millions of likes and certainly hundreds of thousands of reposts. This math does not even take into account the fact that, seeing as they claim to plant one tree for each item sold, they should have planted millions of trees altogether by now. Their website also states that their tree-planting goal is one million by 2021, even though they at one point said that they would have all trees planted from their original post by 2020. Seeing as we are now almost halfway through 2020 and not even 7,000 trees have been planted yet, it doesn't seem like that will happen. In fact, at this rate, it would take them almost 80 years to plant that many trees. Considering that Ethiopia was able to plant 350 million trees in a single day last year, Plant A Tree Co.'s work seems more than minuscule. Not only that, but there is no evidence that the company has planted a single tree.
So, let's take a look at the products themselves. They sell an item called the Patco Bracelet, which comes in three different colors and costs $20. They also have eighteen different Patco charm necklaces available, which appear to normally cost $30 but are on sale for free, where a customer only has to pay $8.95 in shipping. If you do a reverse image search using a picture of their jewelry, you find identical images almost immediately for products sold on Alibaba.com. This site is known for selling cheap, low-quality items in large quantities where they can be bought by other businesses and sold for a major upcharge, a tactic known as dropshipping. In the case of the so-called Patco bracelet (in black), over 1,000 of them can be bought from Alibaba for only $0.82, meaning one single bracelet costs Plant A Tree Co. only 0.00082 cents. Over 5,000 of the blue ones can be bought from Alibaba for $0.58, which makes the cost discrepancy even larger than with the black bracelets. These are the same bracelets that Plant A Tree Co. goes on to sell for $20.
Last but not least, there is the issue of this company only seeking to collect as many followers as possible. Convincing people to follow them as a requirement for their repost to count toward a donation, they now have over three-quarters of a million followers, including myself up until just the other day. By using pressing current events to collect followers, they are hoping to make a profit off of them in the future by promoting their products. Unsurprisingly, their Instagram has deleted comments and blocked users who try to expose them and call them out.
You may wonder what the harm is in reposting their images. Even if they don't donate anything, you are still sharing that you care about the causes they are posting about. But this kind of thinking shows companies like this that what they are doing is okay, and you are failing to see the credible and meaningful ways you can share your opinions with your followers.
So, if you are currently following Plant A Tree Co. on Instagram, do some research. I can't tell you not to follow them, but please take the time to educate yourself, witness all of their sketchy practices and inconsistencies. Do your best to use your presence on social media to bring about positive change that really means something.