A growing passion for tree planting

CN pensioners and employees are joined at a CN EcoConnexions tree-planting event on September 8, 2018, by London MP Kate Young (kneeling on left) and London City Councillor Anna Hopkins (kneeling on right). CN

CN pensioners and employees are joined at a CN EcoConnexions tree-planting event on September 8, 2018, by London MP Kate Young (kneeling on left) and London City Councillor Anna Hopkins (kneeling on right). CN

CN efforts deepening community connections

When it comes to moving freight and passengers over long distances in an economical, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly manner, railway locomotives are the original green machines. “Rail is one of Canada’s climate-change solutions,” says Chantale Despres, sustainability director for Canadian National Railway (CN). A number of facts support this assertion. Rail is four times more fuel efficient at moving freight over the same distance than heavy trucks, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by as much as 75 per cent. A single train can replace 300 trucks or more, reducing road congestion and promoting traffic safety. Trains can move a tonne of freight more than 200 kilometres on a single litre of fuel. Additionally, over the past 25 years, CN has further reduced GHG emissions from locomotives by 40 per cent, partly through the use of renewable fuels such as biodiesel.


At CN, we strive to be a good neighbour and our goal is to make the communities we serve safer, stronger and more sustainable, and one of the things we came up with in 2012 is a program called From the Ground Up.
— Chantale Despres, sustainability director for Canadian National Railway

In 2011, CN doubled down on its commitment to sustainability by launching EcoConnexions, a suite of programs designed to support the railway’s environmental strategy. Originally conceived as an employee engagement tool, it has grown to become a way of expanding engagement and developing stronger partnerships in communities where the railway operates in both Canada and the United States.

“At CN, we strive to be a good neighbour and our goal is to make the communities we serve safer, stronger and more sustainable, and one of the things we came up with in 2012 is a program called From the Ground Up,” says Ms. Despres. It calls for the planting of trees, and so far, a lot of them have been planted. This year, CN will reach the two million mark, making CN the biggest tree planter in North America, after the forest industry itself. Decisions are made at the local level as to what kinds of trees to plant and where to place them, with the effectiveness of the program fertilized by the expertise of organizational partners such as Tree Canada and America in Bloom. To date, trees have been planted in 263 communities along CN’s network. CN’s programs also include tree planting and mass reforestation projects.

The program has proven immensely popular across the network, says Fiona Murray, CN’s vice-president of Public and Government Affairs. “Each community designs its own project, which typically means including multiple stakeholders who help us engage with the communities and help people in the communities engage with each other,” she says. Considering the size of the CN network, it’s not surprising that the range of initiatives is vast and diverse, everything from planting Great Oaks along the Mississippi to conifers around Fort McMurray, Alberta, which was so recently devastated by fire. In many locations, the trees are planted in co-operation with local leaders. Schools and students are also included in the process, so the next generation can learn about the importance of trees and participate in both their planting and subsequent care.

Ms. Murray adds that reaching the two-million tree milestone is significant in a year in which the railway is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Multiple events are planned, including A Moving Celebration, a movable container village, in which CN 100-themed interactive containers will stop in cities across North America and invite CN’s extended family and the general public to join the fun. “The tour will have something for everyone,” she says. “There will be history to discover, interactive safety and innovation exhibits, music, local food to eat, as well as education about the tree-planting program. We’re hoping that Canadians and Americans across our network will join the celebration and see that we are part of the fabric of the continent, part of its economic backbone, part of its future and part of the sustainability solution. And who doesn’t love trees? They’re something we can all agree on. They’re good for communities, good for the environment, and as From the Ground Up demonstrates, good for growing roots in the communities we serve.”

“And,” adds Ms. Despres, “if properly tended, some of them just might be around for the 200th-anniversary celebrations.”

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