Unlike Prague, Budapest is not known for being home to many public parks. So András Györfi took matters in his own hands and created a self-proclaimed Tree Commando to make the Hungarian capital just a little bit greener. Having already planted up to 250 trees personally, András believes that everyone should do their part to help save the environment. He certainly has.
Hi András. Let’s start with the obvious question. What pushed you to start planting trees around Budapest?
My love for trees. I used to study biology at the University of Szeged, and my mother always had a lot of plants at home. Even as a child, I was amazed by the size and power of trees. Take your time, examine a tree, all the details. It’s fantastic. I have planted many trees around our apartment in Budapest, I also have a small almond tree plantation of 100 trees close to Lake Balaton, I did that myself too. I have personally planted around 250 trees…
That’s impressive, so how did the idea for Tree Commando come about?
During the 2020 Christmas season, I was sitting home with not much to do, and I got the idea to start something related to trees, involving others. This is how Tree Commando was born. This winter is a bit cold in Budapest, so we have only done five tree planting events so far. Currently, the Facebook group has over 400 members, way more people than we can provide with work right now…
How do these events work? How do you pick your spots?
The first spots were selected by me, but not long ago I received a phone call from the municipal agency responsible for trees in Budapest. We are forming a cooperation that will make our work much more effective. We will provide the workforce, they will provide the expert knowledge and tools, trees, trucks…
Who’s part of your commandos then?
I started with friends and family members, but I quickly discovered that there were thousands of expats living in Budapest who had nothing to do in their free time because of the pandemic. They loved the idea. Our members are from all around the world, Latin-America, Asia, and many other countries. We welcome everyone, any nationality, age, race… If you love trees, please join us.
How complicated was it to get a permit? How was your initiative received by the authorities?
The authorities have been very friendly and helpful so far. Of course, they also pointed out the mistakes I have made in the beginning. I have to be flexible too, even if you want to do something good for the environment, you have to adapt to rules, laws, permits… The authorities and an organisation such as Tree Commando need each other, we can not do anything without their blessing, and they need the workforce. Especially now, since the crisis has lead to budget cuts.
How would you like to see it develop in 2021, despite Covid regulations?
I hope to reach 10-20,000 members in our Facebook group, and of course, to organise as many events as possible. I think we can plant somewhere between 500 and 1,000 new trees, and also participate in the watering and nurturing the 1,000 to 3,000 trees planted by others this year.
What important message would you like to convey?
I believe climate change is a real issue, and that planting trees is the easiest way to fight against it. People are focusing on electric cars, eco-friendly households, reducing our carbon footprint, and so on. These are all fantastic things, I support all of them fully. But sometimes the easiest solution is also the best, planting trees can really help a lot by increasing the amount of oxygen production and reducing greenhouse gases.
Prague and Kraków have recently been ranked among the top ten greenest cities in Europe, how green is Budapest in your opinion?
I think the laws and regulations regarding the amount of trees and the replacement of old, sick, dying trees is basically good in Budapest. The main issue is with the attitude of most people, they want to do something about climate change, but giving the proper amount of respect to nature is still not a habit. Education can help, the younger generations have a different approach nowadays, they know that we are in trouble. The city needs more funding for trees, and this is super difficult now. Since Covid-19 literally killed the whole tourism sector, they had to cut a lot of funding, and taking away from the agency responsible for parks was the easiest. People get the least angry because of that. But we are here to help, our work is free.
Do you think the Hungarian government does enough for the environment?
Every government receives the reports from the world’s top scientists, they know that we have to do something. Of course Covid-19 has taken away a lot of resources, I know it’s not easy for them. They have plans, a lot of new rules and regulations. But, to be honest, I believe we should use more drastic measures. For example, I still see a lot of plastic bags, they promised to ban these within 1-2 years, and I believe they will. But why wait so long? The curfew has been introduced within 1-2 days, why can’t we do the same here? If you use a plastic bag, first you get a warning, then a ticket with a small fine, then a bigger one and so on, of course a lot of people would be angry, but they will benefit from this as well.
What are the greener cities that inspire you?
London is amazing, I love the parks, I have also been to Kiev, the way they take care of their parks is really cool, beautiful huge green territories.
Do you consider yourself an environmental activist, an “eco-warrior”?
I live in a relatively small apartment with my girlfriend, I do not have a car, I worked mostly from home, even before the pandemic. As an entrepreneur, I love to create, combining this with planting trees is really fun, but I don’t consider myself an “eco-warrior”. Although, to be honest I can imagine that violence will also be part of environmental issues in the near future. We should try to avoid that.
Did you always have a green thumb?
Yes, I was always lucky when planting almost anything, I think if you just trust in nature, then it’s going to work out, a lot of people worry too much when they plant something. Plants know what to do, just give them water and don’t park your car on them!
Great tip! So what’s your favourite kind of tree?
My favorite tree is definitely the Sequoiadendron Giganteum, these giants live up to 3,000 years and weigh over 100 tons. I planted about 15 of these too, it makes me happy to know that they will be still alive thousands of years after I died…
You can find András Györfi and his Tree Commando on Facebook. And don’t hesitate to join them on their next tree planting event!