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by Geraldine Gatehouse | June 25, 2012
One of my favorite websites - springwise.com - is a regular source of inspiration to me. I always find so many creative and practical ideas popping up in its updates. I often end up thinking, “That's such a brilliant idea, why didn't I think of that?” Here are two that I think might work well as give back programs as part of an incentive, while also providing the means for employee engagement.  

The Abbey Parks i-Grow program lets consumers in any part of the UK manage and reap the rewards of a hand-tended allotment in the heart of Lincolnshire.  Consumers begin by choosing from among several plots in Abbey Parks' East Heckington, Lincolnshire, land; each plot is subdivided into eight allotments, each of which can produce eight rows of vegetables. They then choose what they'd like to have planted from among more than 60 vegetables and herbs. Abbey Parks then prepares the land, installs protective fencing, and plants, waters and cares for the crops organically; it also uploads photos to the online members' forum for viewing from afar. When the produce is ready to be harvested, Abbey Parks delivers it free to the customer's door within the UK, and it also offers an optional replant afterwards. Pricing is GBP 104 per year plus GBP 21 for eight rows of produce; post-harvest replants are GBP 3 per row.” Even if you or your company or client isn't based in the UK, this is a service that could be incorporated into a give back program that would benefit a UK-based non-profit. It's an idea that could be emulated in the USA as well. It would be a perfect cause marketing strategic alliance prospect for a company specializing in organic and/or sustainable farming or food production.

This is a similar idea to one launched three years ago and still thriving successfully in Italy. Offering Italians the opportunity to reconnect with the origins of their food, the company's innovative online offering, Le Verdure Del Mio Orto -- literally, the vegetables from my garden -- lets anyone build an organic garden right from her web browser.

It works this way: users first select a garden size based on the number of people they'd like to feed, and 30 square meters is usually sufficient for one to two people. The virtual gardener can then choose from 40 different types of vegetables, using a highly intuitive interface that includes information on expected yields and harvest times. Optional extras include a photo album of the garden's progress, herb and fruit beds, and even a scarecrow with a picture of the customer's own face.  Once the garden has been designed and fees paid, planting begins on the farm, which is located between Milan and Turin in northern Italy. As the organic produce grows, it's picked and delivered to the customer's door within 24 hours. Weekly deliveries are part of the package.

A ramped-up version of community supported agriculture, Le Verdure del Mio Orto capitalizes on consumers' hunger for locally grown food and-in a wider sense-for anything that's faithful to its roots.  The time seems ripe for farmers of all varieties to consider setting aside a few lots, adding branding and logistics, and serving it all up for city-dwellers with an enticing online presence. “

Moving on to trees, LCC Forest, with its tag line "a single tree for Bariloche, a forest for the whole world,” offers an innovative give back program. The idea of the global campaign originated in Bariloche, Argentina, where the local LCC country organization was authorized to reforest land destroyed in forest fires in the Nahuel Huapi National Park. More than 800 trees were donated in the first four weeks of the campaign, and that number has now grown to more than 1,400.

With its global reach of 4,500 employees in 80 countries, LCC wanted to make a commitment to a sustainably responsible future. As a company that fulfils millions of travel dreams in its daily business, the investment in a sustainable environment is of high importance.   

Adrian C. Dannemann, director general of Viajes Dannemann and a member of the LCC network in Argentina, is the local country coordinator for this worldwide CSR project who organized the planting of the first trees in Bariloche.    

Dannemann says, "Our first commitment, as part of the LCC Board, was to plant trees in order to mitigate the damage that forests suffer throughout the world while helping in some way to also protect the environment.  We came to understand that if we helped educate our children about protecting the world and let them plant a tree by themselves, it would be even better for the future of our planet.  As a next step, we realized that if we promoted our LCC Forest as a project to be considered for inclusion in more and more events, this would help multiply the impact of our actions and make more people all over the world to be conscious of our responsibility for the future. This is why we created an incentive program, whereby the cost of each tree decreases with the more trees that you plant.”

Once a donation of trees has been made, Dannemann often organizes a day for children to help plant the trees, giving them a valuable lesson in helping the environment as well as reforesting areas devastated by wildfires or excess logging. A certificate is given to each donor, and a tag bearing the donor or guest name is affixed to each new tree planted. 

At the 2012 Site Classic, where I am once again the committee member for CSR & Sustainability, we will be incorporating this activity into our program. Aspen, the destination where the Site Classic is taking place, is the sister city to Bariloche so the project is a great fit.  Following on from their CSR support at the 2011 Classic, Alberta is sponsoring this initiative and providing the means for each attendee to have a tree planted in his or her name.  It's a unique, meaningful way to thank a participant for supporting the event.  In addition to helping offset the carbon footprint, each person will know the gift they receive will give back indefinitely by helping the global environment.

CSR quote of the month: "Tug on anything in nature and you will find it connected to everything else." 
- John Muir

Geraldine Gatehouse is an independent incentive and event planner, freelance writer, speaker and instructor, with a passionate belief in the value and potential global impact of CSR. She is based in southern California, is 2012/2013 Director of Fundraising & Strategic Sponsorship for MPI Southern California Chapter, a Site Classic 2012 committee member, a 2012 Site Southern California Board Advisor and a member of the IMEX America team. She can be reached at geraldine-g@cox.net; or via her website Geraldine Gatehouse and at LinkedIn. Her Twitter address is @ggbrit