Underscoring its leadership in “conservation capitalism” -- the growing understanding that environmental progress and American business are closely linked -- Norfolk Southern (NS) signed a $5.6 million, five-year reforestation and carbon sequestration agreement with GreenTrees LLC and planted a ceremonial first tree at the Rick Lowery Farm outside Yazoo City, Miss., in late June.
Under the program, NS and GreenTrees will plant 6.04 million trees on 10,000 acres in the Mississippi Delta area served by the railroad, significantly offsetting the company’s CO2 emissions while creating a national environmental legacy.
GreenTrees is the leading reforestation program on private lands in the United States today. Recognized as one of the most innovative developments in the fight to revitalize the nation’s ecological health, GreenTrees is at the cutting edge of the new industrial revolution – making conservation a business.
Of the agreement, NS CEO Wick Moorman said, “Norfolk Southern as a company is dependent on carbon-based fuels and other natural resources. We use them, and we transport them for our customers and communities. Fortunately, rail is the safest, cleanest, and most efficient transport mode. Where we are evolving is in our ability to serve as a balancing force in protecting the environment. The GreenTrees initiative is a substantive long-term commitment to doing just that.”
GreenTrees founding partner Carey Crane said, “Norfolk Southern becomes our newest and largest investor. NS and our other sponsors are far-sighted in their responsible stewardship of North America’s ‘Amazon’ – the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV). The recent flooding across that region highlights the future national benefits that will flow from putting trees into the ground on scale there. We are pleased to be leaders in conservation capitalism with Norfolk Southern.”
The NS/GreenTrees program calls for planting native hardwoods and cottonwoods on privately-owned acreage in Mississippi and Louisiana. The land is in a region served by NS and its predecessors since the earliest days of railroading in the U.S. To put it in perspective, the plantings will represent 211 trees for every NS employee, 299 trees for every mile of NS track, or 1,450 trees for every NS locomotive.
Chandler Van Voorhis, GreenTrees managing partner, added, “We take one acre at a time and compress time and space to accelerate forest growth by six to eight times in the critical first 15 years, creating an ecologically healthy and permanent forest in an area that is central to our national ecosystem interests.”
Over time, the trees should deliver more than a million carbon offsets. “That’s good news for all of us who enjoy breathing, and it’s a solid financial investment for NS,” said Blair Wimbush, NS vice president real estate and corporate sustainability officer. “This isn’t mere landscaping – it goes beyond anything else in the transportation industry, and its impact will be felt for generations to come.”
Restoration of the MAV will support the commercial, climate, and energy interests served by America’s longest river. At the same time, it will protect wildlife habitats, improve water quality, and forestall soil erosion and nutrient run-off. The program will help conserve land in the hands of family owners and farmers, as the NS trees will be planted on private tracts under long-term leases.
Today’s announcement complements other components of Norfolk Southern’s carbon mitigation strategy, including partnerships and financial support for non-profits and coordination and collaboration with government and non-government organizations.
In 2008, for example, NS permanently protected some of the most ecologically significant land in the world when it granted a conservation easement on 12,488 acres of its Brosnan Forest timber and wildlife preserve northwest of Charleston, S.C. The easement, one of the largest in the Southeast and the largest ever by a corporation in South Carolina, protects the dwindling longleaf pine ecosystem and endangered bird species, preserves forever the rural character of the area, and conserves the Four Holes Swamp ecosystem and Edisto River watershed.
As another key element in its woodlands conservation initiatives, NS is supporting research by The Longleaf Alliance, which seeks to restore the tree’s forest ecosystem. The longleaf pine once dominated the landscape of the South and to some extent even its culture, occupying 90 million acres in nine southeastern states. Over-exploitation has reduced that footprint to 3.5 million acres – a loss comparable to that experienced in tropical rain forests, redwoods, or America’s wetlands.
NS also supports the American Chestnut Foundation in its efforts to reintroduce that tree species to native forests. Before being decimated by blight, the American Chestnut was an integral part of the lumber economies of many eastern U.S. communities, and it was a key source of food for wildlife.
“When NS originated some 180 years ago, one of the first things those early railroaders did was acquire the land needed to satisfy the demand for wood to build tracks and bridges and buildings and even to power the first primitive locomotives. In 2011 we’re taking the lead in finding practical ways to be a positive force for the environment,” said Megan Garry, NS manager corporate sustainability. “That’s a remarkable turnaround, which underscores our belief in the major role that business can play in conservation.”
Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE: NSC) is one of the nation’s premier transportation companies. Its Norfolk Southern Railway subsidiary operates approximately 20,000 route miles in 22 states and the District of Columbia, serves every major container port in the eastern United States, and provides efficient connections to other rail carriers. Norfolk Southern operates the most extensive intermodal network in the East and is a major transporter of coal and industrial products.