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Jack Branning’s land in Sharkey County, Mississippi.

Jack Branning’s land in Sharkey County, Mississippi.

Photographer: William Widmer/Redux for Bloomberg Green 

Green
Finance

The Real Trees Delivering Fake Corporate Climate Progress

GreenTrees says it’s fighting climate change by reforesting thousands of acres. But it's taking credit for other people’s trees.

Jack Branning is a prosperous Mississippi businessman, with commercial interests stretching from Hattiesburg to Baton Rouge, La. He’s seen a lot of deals in his 89 years, but few were as curious as the one he was offered back in 2013.

That’s when a forester walked into his office in Vicksburg and inquired about 1,700 acres of former soybean fields he owned nearby. The man worked for GreenTrees LLC, a small company that says it combats climate change by reforesting thousands of acres of farmland along the lower Mississippi River. GreenTrees says it pays landowners to convert their croplands to forests, tallies the planet-warming carbon absorbed by those trees, and then sells credit for the carbon reductions to big corporations that want to offset their own greenhouse gas emissions.