22 February 2022

Have you ever been skeptical of advertising campaigns about offsetting a carbon footprint by planting trees? Don’t worry, we have too! This blog will break down the relationship between tree planting, carbon capture and net zero. It uses Treeconomics’ carbon footprint report, alongside carbon sequestration and storage forecasting from trees we have planted. By linking these two datasets, this blog shows the simple but important relationship between tree planting and carbon offsetting.

Trees, woodlands and forests are very much in the limelight due to their potential for helping us meet our carbon neutral and net zero commitments. Offsetting through trees is not THE answer, but it can be an important part of transitioning to net zero. Most importantly, reducing your own, or your company’s, carbon footprint is an absolute necessity going forward if we are to meet our national net zero targets.

At Treeconomics, we recently undertook a carbon footprint assessment of our business so that we could join the UNFCCC Race to Zero.  This was completed with the help of experts Balanced Energy.

Treeconomics’ carbon footprint for 2019/20 totalled 12.5 tonnes of CO2e.

What’s great is that a carbon footprint is explicitly measurable so, moving forwards, we can measure our progress on our journey to zero.  Yes… zero… and then beyond, with the help of trees.

Whilst we work to assess and reduce this, our day-to-day work valuing trees shows that we can achieve carbon neutrality by offsetting our prior emissions.

At our staff tree planting day in 2021, the team planted a thousand trees!  The species mix was not out of the ordinary and was made up of Birch, Oak, Alder, Field Maple and Ash.  After all the hands-on planting, we thought it would be interesting to forecast the benefits of the trees using i-Tree.  The results can be seen below.

 

The carbon sequestration forecast we built using i-Tree Eco suggests that the trees we planted will have sequestered 14.4 tonnes of Carbon after 10 years.

This leads us to confidently say that our tree planting day will offset our carbon emissions from 2019/20 at some point in the near future.

 

 

But enough of us blowing our own trumpet… how is this relevant to you or your company?  Well first, having a carbon footprint assessment is a key starting point to achieving net zero.  Measuring your carbon footprint in as much detail as possible will allow you to accurately highlight how to reduce it, something which is as, if not more, important than offsetting it.

Ultimately the less carbon produced, the less you need to offset.

Surprise surprise, you have a carbon footprint!  Now what?  There are numerous opportunities for tree planting in the UK.  In fact, the government has pledged to increase annual tree planting in the UK up from its current 13,500 hectares to 30,000 hectares by 2025.  To meet this ambitious target, there are many reputable organisations working hard to get trees in the ground.

How many should you plant?  Well, this is where it gets interesting as, like many things, it depends on (amongst other things) the size of your footprint and how long you are willing to wait for it to be offset.  One challenge associated with using trees is the life cycle of a tree and the associated maintenance.  This is especially important given how climate change is likely to develop and put additional stressors on trees as they grow.  In short, trees may well live for a really long time, sequestering lots of carbon along the way.  However, if you plant a whole load of trees, the likelihood that all of them will reach their full potential and sequester all of the carbon they are capable of is low.  Establishing a reasonable timeframe for a breakeven point in terms of carbon emitted vs carbon sequestered is important to ensure your effort to offset exceeds your carbon footprint rather than falling short.

We highlighted the forecasted carbon sequestration figures at 10 years in the future.  At this time, the trees will have likely sequestered and stored 14 tonnes of carbon, offsetting our emissions for 2019-2020.  We prefer conservative estimates, as the more trees planted, the better.  Although we quietly hope, after looking at the earlier graph, that in 100 years some of those Oaks are still going, as the sequestered carbon forecast after 100 years stands at a whopping 206 tonnes!

Hopefully you find it as cool as we do that trees are going to play an important role in reaching national net zero targets.  Significantly increasing canopy cover will keep the planet as hospitable as possible in the face of the climate emergency.  Not only because trees are fantastic at sequestering carbon but because of their many benefits, such as reducing street level temperature and the urban heat island effect, reducing surface runoff and therefore the risk of flash flooding, and increasing biodiversity, leading to nature recovery.  Valuing the trees we encounter, plant and are fortunate enough to manage, is a wonderful way to appreciate the opportunities that will arise when we plant more, whatever the reason.