I Planted a Giant Sequoia to Offset My Lifetime Carbon Footprint


I never thought I could offset my entire life’s carbon footprint in just one day. Until I met Henry Emson.

Henry leads a pioneering project called “One Life, One Tree”, where ordinary people can plant giant sequoias in England and Wales.

Giant sequoias are the oldest trees in the world. They are the fastest growing evergreen species and can live for 250 to 3,000 years.

They grow very tall and very wide too, with the widest redwood measuring over 9.5 meters – that’s about two Toyota Priuses side by side.

But above all, when it comes to nature carbon capture, no other tree comes close. Redwoods sequester more carbon than any other species.

That’s why Henry created ‘The Great Reserve’, a series of protected areas across the UK where these majestic giants can thrive. His home country was perfect because the climate allows them to survive the stresses of global climate change.

I was wrong about where redwoods can thrive

Before meeting Henry, I had always thought that giant sequoias lived only in the humid climates of Californiawhere they eclipse their surroundings.

I was right – giant sequoias are endemic to California. They only grow naturally in groves on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

But they are now endangered, which puts them on the IUCN Red List. Due to havoc California wildfires in recent years, we are losing 10% every year.

“Sequoiadendrons” (their official name) date back to the Triassic period, 200 million years ago, when dinosaurs first roamed. But today, only about 75,000 remain.

It was this sad fact that inspired Henry to branch out from his day job at a certified B Corp tech company to begin with’One life, one tree‘. Its ultimate goal is to plant 100,000 giant sequoias in the UK by 2030.

Henry compares the redwoods to the millions of people who may be displaced by the climate crisis: “They are effectively like climate refugees – we are helping them with assisted migration,” he explains.

Through propagation (dispersing seeds so more plants grow), giant sequoias can actually survive – and thrive – here in the UK.

Crucially, it is a non-invasive species therefore, it poses no risk to existing native trees. On top of that, Henry plants three native trees around each redwood to prevent monocultures. and promote local biodiversity.

The benefits are immense.

The British countryside is populated by verdant conifers, planters have the satisfaction of knowing they are offsetting their carbon emissions and saving a species from the risk of extinction giving him a new home.

Where did the idea to plant giant sequoias in the UK come from?

When he became a father 7 years ago, Henry worried about the impact his children’s lives would have on the planet. So he set out to find a way to offset the emissions of the whole family.

After extensive research, he discovered that planting giant sequoias was the most effective and accessible solution he had.

Rather than sending money to an (often dubious) carbon offset program who plants trees in a location (often undisclosed) in the worldhe thought, why not plant mine?

Henry now devotes his life to buying land in areas optimal for redwood growth, from Buckinghamshire in England to Brecon in Wales.

Individuals pay for their own sapling and come plant it themselves, or Henry and his team will plant it for them.

The saplings aren’t cheap, costing around £400 (€465), but the money generated is used to buy more land to plant redwoods and to pay for forestry and land maintenance.

The team even uses drones to generate the exact location of each tree, so that each person has their own GPS coordinates and can return to visit.

We need more General Shermans in the world

The oldest living giant sequoia is called General Sherman. It lives in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park in Tulare County, California, and is estimated to be between 2,200 and 2,700 years old.

General Sherman will suck in about 1,400 tons of CO2 in his lifetime. The average person in the developed world generates about 520 tons in about 80 years, so this tree offsets the footprints of almost three people.

Trees are the ultimate carbon capture and storage machines. They absorb carbon and lock it away for centuries – and giant sequoias are our best bet to sequester as much as possible.

“Climate change is upon us, we need to communicate gravity to the world – and it’s a scalable solution,” says Henry.

To see me plant a redwood with Henry, watch the video above.


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