A Natural Approach to Reducing Carbon
Norfolk Southern aims to reduce CO2 emissions by improving the fuel and energy efficiencies of locomotives and office facilities, the company’s two largest sources of greenhouse gases. However, as a corporate citizen, we have a broader strategy. “Trees and Trains” is the company’s model for investing in community conservation initiatives that mitigate carbon emissions the natural way.
The company launched Trees and Trains in 2011 by partnering with GreenTrees®, the nation’s leading reforestation program. The company also has partnered with The Longleaf Alliance and The American Chestnut Foundation. In 2013, Norfolk Southern assisted The Nature Conservancy on the largest-ever longleaf pine reforestation effort in Virginia.
These tree-planting efforts generate benefits related to all three pillars of corporate sustainability: environment, society, and economics. Over time, the trees will store millions of tons of carbon emissions, which is good for the planet. Residents will benefit from improved air and water quality as well as recreational opportunities and jobs. Norfolk Southern will be able to recoup our investment on some of these projects by selling carbon credits that will be earned as the trees we helped plant grow.
“Norfolk Southern set out to pursue a carbon mitigation strategy, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We recognize the benefits for air, water, wildlife, plants, and humans.”
Blair Wimbush, vice president real estate and corporate sustainability officer
Reforesting the Mississippi Delta
Norfolk Southern has long served communities in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. Partnering with GreenTrees, the railroad pledged $5.6 million over five years to plant 6.04 million cottonwood and hardwood trees on 10,000 acres in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. By the end of 2013, trees had been planted on about 6,500 acres. The final 3,240 acres of plantings are scheduled for completion by early 2015 – a year ahead of schedule.
The GreenTrees initiative, aiming to reforest 1 million acres in the Mississippi Delta, is the largest carbon reforestation project in the nation. As they mature, the trees planted through Norfolk Southern’s investment are expected to generate 1.12 million tons of carbon-offset credits, which can be sold to individuals or businesses wishing to offset their carbon emissions. The carbon credits are verified and registered by the American Carbon Registry, a nonprofit enterprise that handles over-the-counter transactions in the voluntary U.S. carbon-offset market. The first 10,000 tons of carbon credits from the Trees and Trains initiative were transferred into Norfolk Southern’s account in late 2013.
GreenTrees has developed a measure it calls an Advanced Carbon Restructured Ecosystem, or ACRE, that quantifies the environmental attributes associated with the restoration or conservation of an acre of land. Using U.S. Forest Service estimates of the ecological value of a single tree, GreenTrees calculates that the 6 million trees Norfolk Southern is planting will create nearly $1 trillion in value over 50 years. That includes dollar values assigned to the trees’ natural attributes of releasing oxygen, controlling air pollution, recycling water, and controlling soil erosion.
GreenTrees presented Norfolk Southern with a digital ACRE certificate in 2013 that recognizes the railroad’s environmental investment. The certificate shows in real time what is happening environmentally because of the investment.
Expanding the Reach of Longleaf Forests
Through the Norfolk Southern Foundation, the company is helping The Longleaf Alliance, a nonprofit in Andalusia, Ala., return longleaf pine habitats to the southeastern U.S. These forests, once blanketing up to 90 million acres, had dwindled to about 2.9 million acres by 1990. Norfolk Southern began supporting the alliance’s efforts in 2010, and in 2013, the Norfolk Southern Foundation provided a $50,000 grant.
Helping to restore longleaf pine forests is a natural for Norfolk Southern. Our Brosnan Forest conference facility near Charleston, S.C., boasts 6,200 acres of longleaf pines that provide a habitat for more than 80 colonies of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, the largest U.S. population of these birds on a single tract of private land. To help restore this ecosystem, the railroad plans to plant an additional 2,000 acres of longleaf pines over the next decade.
Reforesting Former Coal Mines
Since 2010, Norfolk Southern has helped the American Chestnut Foundation reforest former coal mine sites in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee with American chestnut trees.
In 2013, the Norfolk Southern Foundation provided a $25,000 grant to support the Asheville, N.C.-based organization’s planting of 230,000 trees – including about 8,055 American chestnuts – on 350 acres of reclaimed coal mine sites throughout Appalachia. The Foundation is the organization’s primary private-sector funder for these plantings.
A Carbon Credit Milestone for Brosnan Forest
Because of their relatively long life spans, longleaf pines are effective at storing carbon emissions. To take advantage of that opportunity, Norfolk Southern teamed with Finite Carbon, the country’s top developer of forest carbon offsets, to register carbon sequestered in the railroad’s Brosnan Forest longleaf pines with the Climate Action Reserve in Los Angeles.
In 2013, the railroad received the first transfer of carbon credits from CAR. Brosnan Forest is one of 10 Improved Forest Management carbon projects that Finite Carbon is helping to develop for the California Air Resources Board carbon-offset program.
Credits are issued for projects that significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon stored in Brosnan Forest trees resulted in 300,000 carbon-offset credits. Each credit represents one metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalents avoided by the trees naturally absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Proceeds from the sale of carbon credits might be used to promote sustainable management and conservation of wildlife and forestry resources at Brosnan Forest.
Norfolk Southern has agreed to maintain the level of carbon capture at Brosnan Forest for 100 years. Carbon credits currently range in price from $9 to $12 each, based on supply and demand. Norfolk Southern potentially could earn around $3 million from the program.
“It’s cleaning the air and doing something good for the environment,” said Josh Raglin, general manager Brosnan Forest. “At the same time, we get a credit through a market-based fee system, so it’s contributing to the company’s bottom line.”