When it comes to going green, there are few things better for the environment than planting trees. As the “lungs of the planet,” trees change carbon dioxide into fresh oxygen, provide habitat for wildlife, and help minimize the effects of erosion, wind, and sun. While most Canadians are familiar with the role forests play in sustaining the planet, few realize that we have an extra 1.8 million trees in North America thanks to the Canadian National Railway Company (CN).

“We’ve always taken sustainability seriously,” says Chantale Després, Director of Sustainability at CN. “Working together with partners like Tree Canada, we have assisted community groups in establishing green spaces, and conducting tree plantings and mass reforestation projects in a sustainable, environmentally responsible manner.”

Creating connections to local communities

For CN, promoting environmental stewardship is a key part of their overall corporate mandate. “Our goal is to conduct our operations with minimal environmental impact while providing cleaner, more sustainable transportation services to our customers,” says Després. “Our environmental sustainability strategy is focused on emissions and energy efficiency, resource conservation, biodiversity, and land management.”

Després emphasizes that, by its very nature, rail transportation is one of the most environmentally-friendly ways to transport goods, a fact unknown to most. “Moving heavy freight over long distances by rail can reduce carbon emissions up to 75 percent when compared with heavy trucks.”

This concern for the environment gave birth to CN’s EcoConnexions program, which focuses on a variety of eco-friendly initiatives. “The program was launched in 2012 to promote environmental sustainability through the greening of municipalities and First Nations communities situated along our rail network,” she says. “It grew from an employee program to a full-scale national drive supporting our environmental values and initiatives. We want to get everyone engaged, on every level.”

The program provides funding of up to $25,000 to assist with greening projects. Its popularity has skyrocketed since its launch — in 2018 alone, CN received over 140 applications for funding.

Since the start of the program, trees and shrubs have been planted in 243 communities across Canada and the United States.

Supporting the sustainability of our forests

In 2014, CN expanded EcoConnexions to partner with and recognize its customers for their sustainability practices. Then, in 2018, the program was expanded once again to include supply chain partners such as ports and terminal operators. “The Partnership Program celebrates companies that pledge to reduce their carbon emissions, increase energy efficiency, and drive sustainable business practices throughout the supply chain,” says Després. “We recognize and congratulate these companies on their sustainability efforts but rather than have a gala, which is a common way for companies to celebrate and honor participants, we plant trees. This year we are planting 100,000 trees in Canada and the United States.”

It’s clear that CN is committed to making a positive impact on both people and the environment and that the opportunities to continue supporting Canada’s sustainability are being seized by industry leaders and local communities alike. “We’re proud to be part of a program that helps to make communities better places to live, work, and play,” says Després. “It makes our employees proud, and it’s certainly a source of pride for the communities who are planting these trees. On some level, we all feel that planting a tree is an act of hope and it’s a magical thing.”