Carbon mitigation through conservation

Our work to capture emissions the natural way

On the operations side of business, Norfolk Southern works to reduce our carbon footprint by improving fuel and energy efficiencies of our two largest emissions sources – locomotives and railroad facilities. As a corporate citizen, however, we have adopted a broader strategy that has us joining with public and private partners to help reduce the planet’s carbon footprint. That’s what our signature Trees and Trains program is all about.

Trees and Trains is our model for investing in community conservation initiatives. We announced the initiative in June 2011 when we partnered with GreenTrees®, the nation’s leading reforestation program, to help reforest the ecologically important Mississippi Delta. We have also partnered with The Longleaf Alliance and The American Chestnut Foundation to conserve and restore longleaf pines and American chestnuts to their historic ranges.

These tree-planting efforts represent the three primary components of a responsible corporate sustainability program: planet, people, and profits. Over time, the trees will capture and store millions of tons of carbon emissions, which is good for our planet. Residents will benefit from improved air and water quality and recreational opportunities. Our company will benefit because some of these projects – notably, our work with GreenTrees, are expected to generate carbon credits that we can sell to recoup our investment.

As a publicly traded company that aims to create shareholder value, our Trees and Trains program is a socially responsible way to do just that. In short, we have turned a carbon footprint into a corporate opportunity.

“While restoring former woodlands, we’re generating long-term benefits for multiple stakeholders, including residents of the communities we serve, customers, employees, farmers, and family landowners, as well as Norfolk Southern.”
Blair Wimbush, Norfolk Southern vice president of real estate and corporate sustainability officer, on our partnership with GreenTrees.

Progress on Trees and Trains
We made substantial progress in 2012 on our reforestation program with partner GreenTrees. Two years after launching the five-year, $5.6 million effort, we planted 2.4 million trees on 4,000 acres in four states in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV). That represents 40 percent of our goal to plant 6 million trees on 10,000 acres in the ecologically important valley, a region long served by our railroad.

It will be about two more years before the trees have matured enough to generate carbon credits. GreenTrees is helping us certify the carbon credits through the American Carbon Registry, a nonprofit enterprise that handles over-the-counter transactions in the voluntary U.S. carbon-offset market.

Conservation with a purpose, capitalism with a heart

A version of the article below, written by Chandler Van Voorhis, GreenTrees co-founder and managing partner, appeared in the Feb. 12, 2012, newsletter of the Council for Corporate Responsibility. It details his views of the benefits of Norfolk Southern’s Trees and Trains program.

As the balance of the earth’s resources shrink, amid higher human consumption and world population growth, a new perception is taking hold. The frontier of greatest economic opportunity is with those enterprises that:

  • Put more into the earth than they take out
  • Reduce carbon emissions whose future costs are steep
  • Gain shareholder value through sound environmental practice
  • Exercise entrepreneurial responsibility to meet resource shortages
  • Embrace natural capitalism over industrial capitalism

In June 2011, Norfolk Southern Railway made the largest forestry carbon investment to date in North America. They are planting 6.04 million trees for 1.12 million tons of carbon credits over five years through GreenTrees and C2I, helping to restore the Mississippi Alluvial Valley.

Over 50 years, according to the U.S. Forest Service, planting a single tree generates $162,000 of ecological value: That’s $31,250 worth of oxygen, $62,000 worth of air pollution control, $37,500 worth of water recycling, and $31,250 worth of soil erosion control.

With its 6 million trees, Norfolk Southern will be creating nearly $1 trillion of value over 50 years. This value creation and ecological impact reflect the role of carbon as a guarantor of forest permanence, where a tree is worth more up than down.

From a corporate perspective, Norfolk Southern’s investment represents 211 trees per employee, 299 trees per track mile, and 1,450 trees per locomotive. Over 50 years, that translates into a value of $34 million per employee, $48 million per track mile, and $235 million per locomotive.

Norfolk Southern thinks long term. Their leadership is prompting other large corporations to reach out to GreenTrees about similar investments.

Trees and Trains is the story of conservation with a purpose, and capitalism with a heart. At the heart of the intersection are industry and the environment working with each other.

Trees and Trains spreads its ‘roots’

In addition to our project with GreenTrees, we are working on other carbon-mitigation projects that will benefit wildlife, communities, and the environment.

Two projects we are excited about involve longleaf pines and American chestnut trees. Over the decades, land clearing and development or disease reduced the forest stands of both species of trees to a fraction of their former range. Norfolk Southern has partnered with organizations committed to preserving and expanding these valuable trees.

Extending the reach of the longleaf
Longleaf pines, one of North America’s most threatened forest ecosystems, are near and dear to Norfolk Southern. We own and manage a 6,000-acre longleaf pine forest at our Brosnan Forest conference facility near Charleston, S.C. Longleaf pine forests harbor an incredible diversity of plants and animals, providing a unique habitat that endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers need for survival. Brosnan Forest is home to the largest U.S. population of red-cockaded woodpeckers on private lands.

To help restore this important ecosystem to its Southeastern U.S. range, the Norfolk Southern Foundation, since 2010, has donated or pledged $100,000 to The Longleaf Alliance. The nonprofit, based in Andalusia, Ala., was formed in 1995 to ensure a sustainable future for the longleaf pine. Among other things, our funding has helped the Longleaf Alliance develop a longleaf growth and yield model and educate landowners and foresters on best practices in managing longleaf pine forests.

Chestnut trees help recover coal mines
Farther north, Norfolk Southern has partnered with The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) to restore American chestnut trees to hardwood forests in the Appalachian regions of the eastern U.S. The nonprofit is headquartered in Asheville, N.C.

A special appeal of TACF’s work is that much of the effort is focused on reforesting abandoned surface coal mines in communities that we serve. We like the idea of participating in the reforestation of lands that were mined for a natural resource that generated jobs and electricity for millions of residents across our territories.

In 2012, the Norfolk Southern Foundation awarded $25,000 to TACF, up from $15,000 in 2011. Working with the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative and other partners, TACF has planted chestnut and mixed hardwood trees on former mining sites in five states across our territory.

A valued partnership

The following is a stakeholder statement from Bryan Burhans, president and CEO of The American Chestnut Foundation, a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to restore American chestnut trees to their former Appalachian range to benefit the environment, wildlife, and society.

The American Chestnut Foundation greatly values its partnership with Norfolk Southern. As one of TACF’s largest corporate partners, Norfolk Southern is setting an example in corporate responsibility by supporting our efforts to conserve and restore the environment.

Support from Norfolk Southern provides TACF with the critical resources necessary to accomplish the historic restoration project of returning the American chestnut to our eastern forests. The partnership has enabled TACF to reforest formerly unproductive mined lands in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. In 2011 and 2012, TACF worked with the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative and Green Forests Work to help facilitate 56 events to plant 806 acres of land with 455,516 mixed hardwood trees. More than 4,000 community volunteers helped plant trees on each site with a special emphasis on youth involvement. Approximately 5,000 of the hardwoods planted were chestnuts.

Funding from corporations like Norfolk Southern helps us meet our objective to establish diverse forests in Appalachia, including reclaimed mine sites. The Appalachian coal field is in the heart of the American chestnut’s native range and is a key region for restoration efforts.

Conservation with a dedicated partner

The following is a stakeholder statement from Robert Abernethy, president of The Longleaf Alliance, a 501-(c) 3 nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to ensuring a sustainable future for the longleaf pine ecosystem.

For the last five years, The Longleaf Alliance has worked closely with Norfolk Southern to study the longleaf pine ecosystem, educate those who manage and own these forests, and assist in the management of one of the premier examples of a well-managed longleaf forest, Norfolk Southern’s own Brosnan Forest.

Quite literally, The Longleaf Alliance could not achieve its conservation goals without the support of dedicated partners, and Norfolk Southern has been and continues to be a great partner.

Norfolk Southern’s support has been invaluable in assisting us in our mission to restore longleaf ecosystems across their historic range. In 2010, the Norfolk Southern Foundation awarded the Alliance our first two-year grant for $50,000 to complete a growth and yield model that will form the basis to calculate the amount of carbon stored by longleaf pine forests. The Alliance acted as a catalyst for the completion of the project through Auburn University.

In 2012, the Foundation provided an additional $50,000 grant to assist with general operations, including the delivery of Longleaf Academies. These academies are sponsored by state and federal land management agencies and partners across the South, serving to educate landowners, professional foresters, and other natural resource professionals on the ecology and management of the longleaf pine ecosystem.

Because of Norfolk Southern’s partnership and support, the Alliance has been able to achieve more conservation and approach its goal of restoring and reforesting enough land to reach 8 million acres of longleaf pine by 2024.

July 2009

GreenTrees®’ effort to reforest 1 million acres in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley is the leading reforestation program on private lands in the U.S. The MAV, considered North America’s “Amazon,” is a vital habitat for numerous plant and wildlife species. Forest once covered 25 million acres of the valley, but most of the land was converted to agricultural production, leaving only four million acres of forest today.

“Trees and trains have a lot in common. The essence of a train is the efficient movement of goods across the landscape. Trees represent the most efficient distribution of ecological services and goods. Both are long-term assets that require heavy upfront capital to build. Together, trees and trains symbolize how conservation capitalism and balance are delivered.”
Chandler Van Voorhis, GreenTrees co-founder and managing partner.

GRI indicators

These indicators from the 2013 report are addressed on this page

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sustainability in action:

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Committed to a greener workplace

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A Norfolk Southern ‘River Star’

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Keeping locomotives moving down the track

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A little effort, a lot of food for those in need

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Building community partnerships

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In pursuit of a dream

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Where good health meets good deeds

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Partnering for safety

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See all of our sustainability in action case studies