Sustainable Energy

An Indian organization wants to grow urban forests and transform the cities we live and work in

Key Points
  • Afforestt is attempting to green cities with a technique that employs high-density planting.
  • The organization is also using systems developed for assembly lines in factories. 
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An Indian organization wants to grow urban forests

A home to millions of people, the Indian city of Bangalore – officially known as Bengaluru – is the capital of Karnataka, a state in the south of the country.

Due to the large number of IT businesses that have offices there, some have dubbed Bangalore "the Silicon Valley of India."

While it may be a hub for technology, the city is also home to an organization looking to green urban spaces with trees and plants.

A for-profit social enterprise set up in 2011 by former Toyota engineer Shubhendu Sharma, Afforestt, employs the Miyawaki Technique, which is named after the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki. In simple terms, it's a methodology that emphasizes the importance of high-density planting and native species.

Afforestt – which has worked in 10 countries and 44 cities, according to its website – combines the Miyawaki Technique with something called Heijunka, a system used by businesses to cut waste and boost efficiency. Toyota, which employs the Heijunka system at its facilities, has said the word translates to "production smoothing or levelling."

On the company's production line, this translates to assembling a mixture of models per batch, rather than one type of vehicle. According to Toyota, this ensures "there is an inventory of product proportional to the variability in demand."

Afforestt applied these ideas to the natural world. "We could generate a list which would tell us how many numbers of each species you should plant in a sequence, and what … that sequence should be," Sharma told CNBC's "Sustainable Energy."

"Once we know our climates for our species, we mix them in four different layers: shrub layer, sub tree layer, tree layer and canopy layer," he explained.

Afforestt is one of many organizations aiming to green cities and communities. U.K.-based charity Trees for Cities, for instance, works on a national and international level and says it has planted 1,000,001 trees since 1993.

India's capital, New Delhi – where Afforestt also has a presence – has struggled with air pollution for years. Afforestt has been working there to try to increase the amount of green space in the city and, in turn, boost the environment. 

While the challenge may be huge – New Delhi is one of the most polluted cities in the world – the team are ambitious.

"If there is enough resource support, if there (are) … enough government agencies backing this idea, within five to seven years you could turn Delhi from a concrete city into a living urban forest city," Sunny Verma, executive director of Afforestt, told CNBC.

Shailja Vaidya Gupta is part of the office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India.

Speaking to CNBC on the site of a project Afforestt is involved in, she sought to highlight both the long-term picture when it came to costs and the environmental impact of introducing more green space to an urban environment.

"In the beginning the investment going into the forest may be a little more than the normal plantations which we carry out, but eventually the investment works out cheaper," she said.

"If you look at the forest you will see a lot of tiny birds in here, beautiful birds," she added.

"You will see spiders, you will see ladybirds, you will see ants, you will see earth worms and all these holes which you see on the ground here are evidence of insect activity, which is a bio indicator of a healthy forest."

How long, then, can it take for a city to grow a forest and for the benefits – whether they're related to the environment, cost-effectiveness or energy consumption – to be seen?

"It depends a bit where you are in the world," Cecil Konijnendijk, from the University of British Columbia's Faculty of Forestry, told CNBC. 

"Sometimes, you're lucky and there is already a forest and trees grow fast," he added. "But usually ... you have to be in it for the long haul: you have to develop policies, capacities, and definitely show the benefits of planting trees."