A tree of footprints

One of the biggest problems facing, and indeed, resonating from China today concerns the environment. In late August 2010, the country experienced traffic of epic proportions as cars were stuck in a 60-mile tailback stretching from Beijing to the northern province of Inner Mongolia. Furthermore, a recent surge in private car ownership has resulted in over 500 million cars hitting the road (amidst the millions of others on motorbikes, trucks, tractors and probably anything else with wheels), with the consequence of contributing to 40% of the country’s carbon monoxide emissions. As such, the China Environmental Protection Foundation has been on the tricky road of encouraging people to walk, although why a 3 day jam is not a sufficient deterrent, I have no idea.

The Foundation teamed up with DDB China to get people to recognise the green benefits of walking, while more challengingly – to get people opting for walking as their preferred choice of transportation. Thus was born the concept of the Green Pedestrian Crossing – a crossing that quite literally exhibited the leafy, blooming attractions of a world without cars and the planet-friendly symbolism of green shoe soles. The crossing murged the concepts of art, participant involvement and environmentalism, making me a little too enamoured by the whole campaign.

A large predominantly white canvas was placed in the middle of seven busy pedestrian crossings in Shanghai, with sponge cushions soaked in green environmentally-friendly washable and quick dry paint on either side. As pedestrians walked towards the crossing they stepped on the sponges and the soles of their feet made footprints on the tree – the tree thereby sprouting and growing as the day went on, and the crowds getting ever larger and more intrigued by the idea, as the crossing went nationwide, featuring in several more Chinese cities, as well as the prize books of Cannes Lions and D&AD.

Overall, over 3,920,000 people took part in the project (equating to a lot of green paint and jealous ogling car drivers) and the campaign featured in key media both online and offline. According to research, awareness of environmental protection increased 86%, which is not bad going for the world’s largest car market, and pretty astonishing for a campaign that starts with a green mat that is strangely reminiscent (at least in my eyes) of the foot and mouth disaster. In fact I would be fascinated to know where the inspiration of the campaign stemmed from… the answers probably evident in the Shanghai Zheng Da Art Museum where the print is now exhibited.

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