We could have easily flown on a commercial flight.  But, to fly to Camden, SC in the morning and return that afternoon, small, fast, and private was the way to take care of business.  Besides, Skyway Air Taxi of Manassas, VA offsets their carbon footprint with credits we sell them.  This flight was entirely carbon-neutral, a great way to start. 

Our pilot powered up, and we launched down the runway.  In a few minutes, our sleek, new Cirrus SR22 carried us to 8,000 feet cruising through clear, blue skies at around 200 mph.  We would land in Camden in about 2 hours.  With a tailwind, the trip home would be shorter.

Once landed, we drove past the famed steeplechase course in Camden.  We were headed to nearby Rembert, SC, home of Modern Turf, a sod-growing farm where we would launch the mission to plant more trees in South Carolina.  We were all the guests of Hank and Mary Kerfoot, the landowners. Tripp Chavis, CEO, and President of Milliken Forestry had recommended the Kerfoots convert some of their unproductive acres into the forest in a GreenTrees program creating carbon credits. Our expansion into South Carolina would start here.  Today, our partners were gathering to announce our union and celebrate the plans to continue across the state.

After Hank Kerfoot’s generous welcome, he introduced our Founder, Chandler Van Voorhis to the group of 65 landowners and conservationists that gathered to listen.  To date, Van Voorhis and his partners have sequestered more than 6.3M tonnes of carbon.  Sales of resulting credits provide regular financial distributions to participating landowners.   While GreenTrees has become the leading reforestation project in the world by credit issuance, the company is always looking for more land to reforest.  South Carolina is primed for the opportunity. 

Van Voorhis described how natural capital offers new (and growing) revenue streams that help landowners profit from their property.  The corporate appetite for sustainability is driving the value of carbon offsets higher, and higher, so the timing is perfect to connect landowners to the process of growing trees for carbon sequestration and the valuable carbon credits that result. 

Van Voorhis added, “With the special relationship we have with Milliken, Norfolk Southern Railway, and the energy of Ethel Bunch and Sustain SC, we are at the dawn of conservation capitalism. It gives capitalism a heart and conservation a purpose.”   

Van Voorhis introduced his friend, Milliken’s CEO, Trip Chavis.  Chavis is a seasoned leader in the state and leads this work.  He is our headlights capably forging the right relationships at the right time.  With Lamar Comalander and Angus Lafaye at the gathering, Chavis had three generations of Milliken leadership behind him, all trusted advisors to South Carolina landowners since 1949.   “In ACRE, we have a global leader in reforestation right here in our state providing meaningful options to landowners. This means more agricultural acres will be protected from land use changes.”  He added, “South Carolina also has some of the most innovative companies in the world looking to make investments right here.”  He pointed to Ethel Bunch and Sustain SC, as an integral member of his team helping connect the goals to area businesses.

Under Ethel Bunch’s popular leadership, Sustain SC has solidly connected commerce and conservation.  She echoes Van Voorhis’s message.  “We are at the intersection of change.  Ecological credits are the new currency of conservation and our business community is willing to help fund the restoration of our land.  It helps them achieve their sustainability goals and supports the local landowners at the same time.”

Jennifer Mapes represents Sage Automotive Interiors.  Sage has global sales but manufactures in South Carolina.  “At Sage, we and our customers have defined that sustainability is increasingly more important to us all.  We are constantly reminded that we must all do things differently.  We have plans to be much more aggressive pursuing our sustainability goals.  GreenTrees offers us a chance to do that with programs rooted in our home state.” 

Harry Ott is the President of the South Carolina Farm Bureau, representing more than 90,000 members.  We rely on the good faith of farmers wherever we are, so we were proud when Ott spoke next.  “We want to generate the best revenue we can from the land and GreenTrees will deliver another tool to generate the profit we’re looking for, especially from land we may have thought unproductive.  It’s a model we can recommend.”

We can thank Josh Raglin, Chief Sustainability Officer at Norfolk Southern Corporation, for the matchmaking involved.  He saw the synergy between our longtime friends at Milliken, Sustain SC, and GreenTrees.  The relationship was a natural and has taken traction quickly.  Norfolk Southern has been in South Carolina since 1827 and was one of GreenTrees’s first customers.

Buoyed by success, we were all smiling as we buckled into the plane for the ride home.  It was hard not to feel super excited by the enthusiastic response we heard from major land trusts, businesses and landowners.  On our way home, we flew over farmland that was all connected by the Pee Dee River (in SC,) the Rappahannock River, the James River, and the Potomac River basins.  It was that constant reminder Jennifer Mapes from Sage spoke about.  I know she is right, and we must all do more to protect our environment.  But today, I felt we had made significant progress.

Robert Banner is Senior Project Officer at ACRE Investment Management in The Plains, VA. Thoughts? Reach him at (540) 729-1335, or rob@acre-investment.com.

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