Growing an oasis in Inner Mongolia

Volunteers pruning six-year-old pine trees planted in the Horqin desert (Inner Mongolia) to stop the desert from taking over farmland. Photo: Timberland

The scorching sun blazed down mercilessly on us, but we remained undeterred. We pulled protective sleeves over our arms, wrapped our faces in scarves and buffs, and donned caps and hats. The slippery sand made walking difficult, but we trudged on, adamant to reach our destination. Our goal: to transform a tiny corner of north-east China into forest again.

Our group of 83 – Timberland staff and its franchise partners, journalists and consumers – was intent on planting as many trees as possible that day in Horqin desert, Inner Mongolia.

Since 2001, the outdoor apparel and footwear company has embarked on a project to restore greenery to Horqin. The area was once verdant grassland and forest, but decades of over-grazing and unsustainable farming have left the land barren.

The desert is the source of nasty sandstorms that plague China’s northern cities and which can reach as far afield as Japan and South Korea. After experiencing one such sandstorm in Tokyo, one Timberland employee suggested that the company get involved in reforesting Horqin.

It teamed up with Japan-based group Green Network for the endeavour. To date, the project has seen two million poplar, willow, plum and pine trees being planted on 700ha, returning an area of the desert to the grassland and forest it once was.

Though Green Network employs villagers to plant, water and trim the trees, every year, Timberland provides employees, consumers and journalists an opportunity to be a part of the global fight against the expanding desert.

Volunteers watering newly-planted pine saplings in a desert in Horqin. Photo: The Star/Tan Cheng Li
Volunteers watering newly-planted pine saplings in a desert in Horqin. Photo: The Star/Tan Cheng Li

Our group came from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and the United States. Armed with shovels, we dug 50cm-deep pits in the earth to encase pine seedlings, being careful not to damage their fragile, thin branches. Once all the seedlings have been planted, we formed a human chain to carry buckets of water pumped up from the ground, and gave the saplings a good drench.

Once grown, the trees and undergrowth will stabilise the soil and block the march of sand. That day, we added 400 pine trees to Horqin desert. We also pruned some 1,000 pine trees of their low-lying branches, to ensure robust growth.

This reforestation project, along with similar efforts by the government and other companies, has helped slow down the spread of the desert. It is part of Timberland’s commitment to protect and restore the outdoors, says its global sustainability director, Colleen Vien. The company’s three major tree-planting initiatives have seen seven million trees planted in China, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

The company also designs and manufactures its products responsibly. “We hold ourselves accountable not only for what goes into our products, but how they are made too,” says Vien. It has steadily increased the use of recycled, organic and renewable (ROR) materials in its products.

Last year, 79% of its footwear incorporated ROR materials, including over 560,000kg of recycled polyester – the equivalent of 57 million plastic bottles. Almost all of its footwear leather are sourced from tanneries certified by the Leather Working Group to have adhered to sustainable and good environmental practices.

To build a sustainable supply chain, Timberland requires its manufacturers and material suppliers to be audited for social and environmental compliance. And to reduce its environmental footprint, it will source at least 30% of its energy from renewable sources this year, as well as reduce emissions from its facilities and employee travel by 50%.

READ ALSO: Battling encroaching sands in the barren plains of Horqin, Inner Mongolia

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