Why is Bupa helping to plant Miyawaki forests?

For years I have been a vocal advocate for brands taking up causes that are relevant to what they do. If you are in the toilet paper industry like Who Gives a Crap, then supporting WaterAid’s Global Sanitation Projects makes a lot of sense. IKEA using its flat-pack experience to make refugee huts is a great example of a company leveraging their expertise for social good. MotoGP supporting Riders for Health in Africa, shows how two wheel transport can be much better than four. Brands should be creating relevant conversations about their industry and what they do, through their positive impact initiatives.

To me Bupa supporting the planting of Miyawaki Forests is one of those perfect tie ups. The links between nature and heath are well researched. The impact trees and nature have on air quality, pollution, mental health and reducing stress are well documented. Healthcare brands like Bupa supporting nature restoration projects in our cities makes a lot of sense.

But what is a Miyawaki Forest you might be wondering? Miyawaki Forests represent an alternative approach to tree planting and biodiversity restoration. The method emphasises the creation of dense, native forests, which can thrive in a variety of environments, including urban areas. Unlike traditional forestry methods, the Miyawaki technique focuses on planting a huge variety of native species close together, which accelerates growth and creates a self-sustaining ecosystem in a remarkably short period.



While I am a big fan of what Bank Australia is doing with its conservation reserve, and would love to see other companies follow them, smaller local projects are a much more manageable proposition. They bring activities and actions closer to the community, customers and employees. A local Miyawaki Forest is something that can be easily experienced by all and is a lot easier to initiate.

When I heard Bupa was sponsoring the creation of  a Miyawaki Forest near by I couldn’t resist going along and seeing what was happening for myself. Developed in partnership with Monash City Council and Earthwatch the site had already been landscaped, with a few rocks and logs laid out, the soil turned and a grid mapped out for planting.

On site, I met Bupa, APAC Chief Sustainability and Corporate Affairs Officer, Roger Sharp and asked him few questions.

How did this all start?

The TinyForest/Miyawaki Forest partnership that Bupa has established with Earth Watch has its origins in our Healthy Cities Challenge, which is one of the main programs that delivers to what we call the ‘Mission Regenerate’ pillar of Bupa’s global sustainability strategy. Healthy Cities is designed to help create ‘healthy people’ through increased physical activity. Bupa is a healthcare company after all, so it makes sense for us to invest behind programs that help keep people healthier. The sustainability twist that accompanies the Healthy Cities program is that by being more physically active participants release investment for programs that are designed to help create ‘a healthy planet’ with a particular focus on biodiversity and environmental restoration projects. As you’ve called out, for Bupa it’s also crucially important that these are local projects that engage local communities.

What do you see as the biggest benefits of a project like this for Bupa?

It’s hard to call out just the one benefit as there are so many! As you will be aware, fundamentally this project helps us deliver on Bupa’s founding purpose as an organisation – to help people live longer, healthier, happier lives and to make a better world. It also directly delivers to our company’s stated sustainability strategy and crucially helps our people connect and give back to their local communities. It really is a win-win for all concerned. And, yes, it’s also very important to building credibility, trust, and affiliation for the Bupa brand. The healthcare/health insurance market is fiercely competitive, and we want people to see Bupa as a company that’s on their communities’ side, trying to do the right things for their health and the health of our planet.

Will we see more projects like this in the future?

Yes, most definitely! We ran our Healthy Cities program for the first-time last year, and that was instrumental in creating our partnership with organisations like Earthwatch, but also Conservation Volunteers Australia, Project Crimson (in New Zealand) and others. These partnerships are now stronger and more embedded in 2024 and we are running our Healthy Cities Challange again in September. It’s going to be bigger and better this year, with the Challenge once again releasing funds for TinyForest/Miyawaki Forest projects so we can establish many more of these wonderful projects right across Australia.

It’s really important that Bupa employees believe that the charitable activities their company is involved in are worth pursuing. If a companies charitable efforts only exist in the marketing department they are never going to get the conversation and traction they need, to see them flourish. I had the pleasure of meeting some Bupa employees on site and they were absolutely brimming with enthusiasm. This really bodes well for the initiative and the chance of seeing more Bupa Miyawaki Forest’s in the future.

The planting day proved to be a great success. There were many more people wanting to take part than was physically possible. On the previous day the local school got involved and the kids had a great time planting and leaving messages. A follow up program called “Tree Keepers” has been activated, which is part of a global network of volunteers who monitor, care for, and learn from Tiny Forests. This ensures we will see more citizen/schools science projects happening at this site in the in the future.

Photos By Steve Brown