According to recent research by business gas and electricity broker Utility Bidder, the 10 largest CO2-emitting companies in the United States would need to plant more than 2 billion trees annually just to offset one year’s worth of their direct (Scope 1) and indirect (Scope 2) emissions.
As shocking as this figure is, it is no surprise. According to the Carbon Majors Database report from CDP, a nonprofit global disclosure system, just 100 companies account for 71% of the world’s CO2 emissions. Utility Bidder identified the U.S. and U.K. companies pumping out the biggest carbon footprints and then calculated how many trees each company would need to plant each year to offset its emissions.
Because the world loses more than 15.3 billion trees annually, according to a 2015 study in the journal Nature, we need to plant more than 2 billion trees to keep up.
Two major petroleum companies topped the list. U.K.-based BP had the largest carbon footprint, releasing 374 million tons of CO2 annually. ExxonMobil, headquartered in the U.S., is the second-highest emitter, releasing 112 million tons of CO2 annually.
Tree-planting’s Financial Context
Tree-planting organizations working in low-income countries can put a tree in the ground for as little as 25 cents today. If aggressive planting programs were put in place, that cost could be lower, and tens of thousands of jobs would be created. For example, Samsung and Veritree collaborated to plant 2 million trees in 2022, which will provide 4,000 days of work in Madagascar. (See disclosure below.)
BP would have to plant 1.87 billion trees every year to offset its emissions, which would cost $467.5 million. This sounds expensive but it represents just 3.6% of BP’s 2021 net profits of $12.8 billion. The company instead announced it would buy back $1.5 billion worth of its stock.
To offset its emissions, ExxonMobil would need to plant 560 million trees every year, which would cost $140 million (at $0.25 per tree). That tree-planting bill would represent only 0.06% of the oil and gas company’s $23 billion 2021 profit.
Discover which other U.S. businesses are top carbon emitters in this infographic from Utility Bidder.
Disclosure: Earth911’s publisher, Mitch Ratcliffe, was a contractor to Samsung and contributed to the Veritree partnership.
This article was originally published on April 19, 2022.