Arianna Valentini: What I Think About TRI Upcycle
10.8 million hectares have been deforested for palm oil plantations in the island of Sumatra (Indonesia)*. One of the main consequences of deforestation in Sumatra is the progressive extinction of orangutans that inhabit this ecosystem. Ben learnt this during a school trip when he was 13. That same year he founded TRIUPCYCLE, a social enterprise that supports grassroots conservation organizations in Sumatra and Kalimantan. How does he do it? Through bandanas.
I met Ben at The Green School, he’s 18 now and he will graduate this year. He visited an orangutan conservation center for the first time during the school trip to Sumatra, he was exposed to a real problem of his country, he was able to see the effects of deforestation first hand and empathize with the situation.
With an understanding of the problem, Ben wanted to propose a solution that would reduce the use of single-use paper and that, at the same time, could create consciousness on the deforestation problem. To graduate middle school at The Green School each student is required to develop a QUEST project. The only requisite of the project is that it has to be related to social justice or sustainability. Within this framework and after his trip to Sumatra, TRIUPCYCLE was founded.
Through bandanas and other products, Ben and his team are not only helping to reforest the ecosystem in Sumatra and Kalimantan but they are also advocating for environmental consciousness.
I stop to think, what was I doing when I was 13? Honestly, I don’t remember but I surely was not ideating and developing a social enterprise. What were you doing?
Within the more common (and traditional) educative models 13-year-old students are more worried about getting good grades than in developing something relevant, don’t you think? Whereas, when the model enables the possibility to develop something relevant and real incredibly things can be created.
Nothing is born perfect and at the beginning TRIUPCYCLE was producing the bandanas from scratch, meaning there was a production cost for the environment. After some iterations, the team decided to upcycle and they began working with different hotels in Bali. They no longer use new cloth, instead, they receive blankets and sheets from different hotels which they transform into colorful bandanas.
In their business model, every time you buy a bandana you plant a tree in the deforested areas. Moreover, they support different conservation grassroots organizations. And this idea came up to a 13-year-old who had the fortune to have a group of teachers and an environment that allowed and enabled him to think outside the box.
How much potential do human beings have? Why do we still believe we have to be ‘adults’ to make a difference? Why aren’t we empowering kids all over the world so that they can develop projects with social and environmental impact?
Ben taught me that it’s imperative to be exposed to problems and to the reality that surrounds us. If we don’t know what’s happening if we don’t empathize with our reality, how are we going to solve things?