The Pledging Tree

by Su Yang

Everyone wants to help save the planet, but with the threat of climate change drawing ever closer, it feels impossible for one person to make a difference. To keep our planet healthy for our children and grandchildren, it’s going to take all of us working together. That’s where The Pledging Tree comes in — we want to inspire people to save the planet, one small pledge at a time.

How Does It Work?

The Pledging Tree takes the form of a public art exhibition, in a familiar and well-attended place, such as Boston Common. The tree begins as a bare set of branches, and it’s up to us to add the leaves.

What are the Leaves?

The leaves are pieces of purple cloth, on which people can write pledges to help the environment. Pledges are small actions that each person can take, that together will make a larger difference. Examples can include “I will use my own produce bags,” “I’ll take public transportation instead of Uber or Lyft,” or “I can use a reusable water bottle.”

How do people make a pledge and contribute to the tree?

If someone wants to add a pledge, they can take a piece of cloth from the base of the tree and write their pledge on that. Once someone writes down a pledge, they can tie it to any branch of the tree to help it grow into a beautiful art display!

They can also use the internet-connected scanners at the base of the tree to scan in their pledge. The scanner parses the handwriting, prompts the writer to type in their first name, and uploads the pledge to a website that people can visit from anywhere in the world. Online visitors can explore the interactive tree by selecting different regions of the tree and leaves; they can also show their support for someone’s pledge by “clapping,” or upvoting.

Our hope is for the online component to not only inspire individuals to take action based on other people’s pledges, but also other communities around the world to do something similar with their open spaces!

Link to 3d overhead view:

Link to 3d front view:

Link to static digital mockups:

Why The Pledging Tree?


The tree will be in a public place, immediately attracting attention from passersby. Its visual and artistic beauty will hopefully evoke admiration right off the bat, and draw people in to learn more about the project. Then, as people learn more, we hope they will experience elevation by witnessing others working together to save the planet. This elevation may then inspire them to save the planet as well. Down the line, as more and more people pledge to save the planet, the number of pledges will grow to be awe-inspiring, as people experience the vastness of those pledging to be more environmentally-friendly. The internet component will contribute to the vastness experience, as people from all over the world can see the pledges and start their own trees in their communities.


Research shows that you are 40% more likely to achieve your goal when you write it down, so writing down pledges will make people more likely to follow through with them. Your likeliness of achieving that goal grows even higher when you have someone else rooting for you to do it. With the online component of the tree, people can “clap” for goals, showing people that they’re rooting for them.


A particular goal gaining momentum (more claps) online not only encourages the original author to follow through, but also inspires viewers to also potentially take up the goal. The public nature of the pledges serves as an external stimulus that can motivate people to take action, especially once they see others supporting!


We were inspired by public and private exhibitions that museums and cities have put on display in the past. One particularly fun exhibit we talked about was the NYC Museum of Food and Drink’s Chow: Making the Chinese American Restaurant. A fortune cookie machine allowed visitors to type up their own fortunes online, which would then get dispersed into various fortune cookies other strangers would receive. Another exhibit, put on by the city of Montreal, shed light on domestic violence by installing a white archway in the middle of a shopping mall, encouraging passersby to contribute to the display by writing what they loved about themselves on strips of pink fabric—collectively, the city was able to create an art piece while simultaneously spreading awareness.

We combined the unique ways in which these two exhibits were executed to guide our own brainstorming. By making the Pledging Tree a visually stunning art piece that’s (literally) rooted in a community and grows as more people interact with it, we ultimately hope to inspire others to think more about their environmental footprint and ways they can live more sustainably. ??

Link to presentation:

Link to video:

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Tobias Haefele March 25, 2020 - 1:43 pm

I love the idea and the way to visualise the connection of individual contributions to a larger whole. Also great renderings! what I would love you to explore further, is how people can use this to also think about collective action, e.g. writing petitions to policy-makers etc. to also address the structural component of climate change, rather than attempting to solve it through individual activity.

Donagh Mahon March 25, 2020 - 5:28 pm

I’m a big believer in writing down goals as a way to increase the likelihood of realizing them, so I was on board with this project from the start. I think this most effective part of this project would be the presence of many of these installations around the country or world. Pledges from those in the immediate vicinity of a given tree are the ones that will be added to the tree. I think this would contribute to some positive social pressure (people may be inclined to do what everyone in their area is doing) as well as serving as a physical reminder to those who made pledges and pass the tree daily. The internet has proven its ability to inspire people geographically distant from each other, so maybe I am over estimating the importance of many physical trees.

Adam Moqrane March 25, 2020 - 11:29 pm

I think the idea of community accumulation and trending motives works great for a project like this, however I can’t help but think about limitation of trees in popular public domains. If this was to work, it would have to be in an area which is viewed by many people constantly such as a main road or popular square for example. I wonder whether the few remaining trees in these areas would benefit from having pledges engulf them– maybe if it wasn’t a real tree and some sort of art installation shaped like a tree to draw more upon art/visual stance this project has might offer some relief. That being said though, I think the visual rendering is very well done indeed and I am a big fan of the graphics!

Nourhan Shaaban March 26, 2020 - 12:47 am

I really like this idea, and would use it personally. One thing that I was wondering about is if there would a function/feature just for friends – sharing and learning form friend’s pledges specifically. Would there be “pledge circles” for example?

Love it!

Sally O'Keeffe March 26, 2020 - 2:04 am

I love the example you gave of the public art/ awareness work in Montreal. How that looked really made me imagine how beautiful this tree could be. I read your post twice through because I wasn’t sure if you were talking about an actual tree or having a sculptural tree, but after watching your video a second time I think you’re saying you would use an actual tree. I think it honestly might be more beautiful if it was maybe a fake tree, maybe painted white or another color and made of metal. I am suggesting this because in your post you mention how it will begin as a bare set of branches and people will add the leaves, but it would look kind of messy if it’s just fabric tied onto a tree. Although I do see how that could maybe become a movement because it’s easier for different areas to create the public art piece if all they need is fabric and access to the app. Anyway, no matter what I imagine it looking really beautiful and inspiring people to accomplish their goals.

Ying Zhang March 26, 2020 - 4:17 am

LOVE THIS IDEA SO MUCH!!!I definitely want it to see it real! The sharable way and the beautiful design all make people willing to contribute their ideas. It reminds me of the Japanese wisteria scenes and it is really impressive. This design definitely further connect community and our living environment further.

Kongyun He March 26, 2020 - 4:23 am

I love this idea of participating in creating a public art while vowing to change my behavior for the greater good! This project allows people to translate a goal into a beautiful art piece, see it become part of a greater community where others share similar goals, and making a collective effort to save the environment is truly inspiring. I think it would be even better if the app can include features that remind you to check your progress and other people’s progress to hold each other accountable and really see this tree “grow”!

Adam Gordon March 26, 2020 - 6:34 am

This is a great idea that is applicable to virtually any cause. Some comments have suggested that some sort of artificial tree would be more suitable for a project like this one, and I agree. This would draw attention, especially if the artificial tree were on the more artistic side. Positive social pressure might draw even more people the more out of place it seems. That being said, I really love the graphics. The shades of purple used are vibrant and gentle! Great job.

Malila Freeman March 26, 2020 - 9:49 am

First of all, I really like the idea of combining an art installation with making environmental goals – super clever! I especially liked that you included the research around the helpfulness of writing down goals. Since people’s goals are scanned to the app when they add them to the tree, I wonder if it would be beneficial to incorporate a tool in which participants could log their progress towards their goal over time. That way, they could stay continuously engaged which would make it more likely to become habit, and other users could also see their progress, be inspired by it, and encourage it. I think that you’re definitely onto something, but I would like to see more tools within the app to help people’s goals become a reality!

Nynika Jhaveri March 26, 2020 - 9:53 am

I really enjoy both the visual and conceptual simplicity of the idea in being able to inspire change at a much larger level. In order to take the pledging tree further, I was wondering if the online component of the project may assist individuals in bringing their pledges into fruition? Could it list some general resources that people could use (lists of NGOs for donations, expertise advice of sustainable lifestyles, etc) to help/encourage them achieve the pledges they make?

Emily Koch March 26, 2020 - 6:18 pm

I think this idea is really exciting and inspirational. Engaging community and shared responsibility when it comes to living and practicing sustainable tendencies would likely increase this behavior, at least I know it would for me. I wonder if you guys implement some sort of ‘streak’ if that would also add to a shift in behavior.

Vivian Zhou March 26, 2020 - 9:04 pm

I really love the environmental focus of this and think this is a solution well grounded in research which explains the effectiveness of a commitment device. In this case, the product has taken the concept of a commitment device even further and made it something very beautiful and inspiration, which I would think adds to the effect. However, I also think it would be even more effective to implement some sort of follow-up capability which gets the user to periodically return to the commitment they made and check-in with how well they are following that!

Danielle Green March 27, 2020 - 3:37 am

I’m a big fan of this concept! The Pledging Tree is supercute and something I would make use of in a heartbeat. It gives me such heartwarming vibes. You are mobilizing art and sculpture for social impact and social good. I like anything that cultivates a sense of optimism, positivity, and resilience in our world. It’s great that you developed both a public component as well as a digital one with the app. That way, people around the word can partake in the movement even if they cannot be present physically. I like the idea that you can upvote different goals to serve as a sense of motivation and positive reinforcement.

I like your graphics as well! They are soft and minimalist. You did a nice job on the slideshow. I like the soft, warm, and inviting lilac color scheme. The pieces of fabric draped on the tree also inspire the feeling of commitment through a global movement.

Personally, I would love this to be real. Perhaps we can actualize this creative vision. I can easily envision this as a public activation in a park or city center. I know you mentioned in the video it the Pledging Tree would first be installed in Boston Common. I think you can start a grassroots movement to easily replicate this in different parts of the world.

Gabe Ziaukas March 30, 2020 - 12:05 am

I think the idea of interaction with any kind of installation makes it that much more engaging for a consumer/participant. I wonder how you might consider creating a component that tracks your pledge and keeps you accountable. I think extending the project towards inspiring collective action i.e. creating a high degree of brand loyalty for THIS specific thing is another great way to achieve the goal of the concept.

Lauren Toman April 5, 2020 - 5:10 pm

Wow the visuals for this project are wonderful. If someone told me this was an app, I would believe them. I love the idea of having people motivate you to do your best or keep your word to yourself to fulfill a promise. I often get inspired to hear what other people are wanting to do or change in their lives, so this seems like a great idea. My two questions are about the tree and continued motivation. For the physical tree, would the cloth harm or effect the growth of the tree at all? Also, how would people keep motivated after the initial posting of their goals? Would their post be recycled in other people’s feeds so that people are constantly seeing the post? Really enjoyed your project!

TJ Song April 7, 2020 - 9:39 pm

This is one of my favorite ideas! I think that this is an elegant way of connecting technology to something physical that people can see that represents something meaningful. I think the community building sociology behind pledging is one that is seen more already traditional functions in many non-U.S. countries and would transfer well to a symbol for common good connected by technology.

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