Norfolk Southern has tapped Josh Raglin, longtime steward of our Brosnan Forest preserve, to reimagine the company’s sustainability program. Over the past decade, Raglin has led the railroad’s efforts to build a conservation capitalism platform at the Forest, taking an innovative approach that optimizes ecological assets such as carbon, wetlands, streams, and wildlife while generating revenues from both conservation and traditional land-management practices.
In his new role as chief sustainability officer, Raglin will lead efforts to transform the company’s sustainability strategy. He will champion initiatives that integrate sustainability practices into daily operations to achieve efficiencies, control costs, generate revenue, and reduce environmental impacts. These efforts will include close collaboration with department leaders company-wide, including marketing, operations, and government and investor relations.
Raglin will be based in Atlanta and report to Annie Adams, NS’ chief transformation officer. Raglin was a natural choice for CSO, Adams said, noting that he is recognized inside and outside the company as a leader and innovator in conservation management and corporate sustainability practices.
“Under Josh’s leadership at Brosnan Forest, Norfolk Southern has drawn national attention for our innovative practices to protect and restore longleaf pine habitat and red-cockaded woodpeckers,” Adams said. “We’ve tasked Josh with taking what he’s done at the Forest and scaling it up for the rest of the company. While Josh will lead the charge, it will take all of us working together to achieve our goal of industry-leading sustainability performance.”
Promoting rail’s low-carbon advantage
A primary focus, Raglin said, will be leveraging rail’s environmental advantages over trucks to grow our business volume and drive shareholder value. On average, trains are four times more fuel-efficient and emit 75% fewer greenhouse gases than trucks, according to Federal Railroad Administration studies. In today’s environmentally conscious business climate, he said, shareholders are increasing pressure on publicly traded companies to reduce their environmental footprint.
“We are in the efficiency business,” Raglin said. “We’re delivering the low-carbon economy when it comes to freight transportation, and we need to be more proactive in getting that message out. Many companies are announcing plans to be carbon neutral, and one way they can do that is through their transportation supply chain. We can offer that solution to customers by taking more of their freight off the highway and putting it on rail.”
Another key focus area, he said, will be revitalizing efforts to engage employees in sustainability initiatives. To that end, Raglin said he plans to re-establish an internal sustainability advisory council, drawing on the expertise of employees across departments. He also plans to expand outreach to external stakeholders, including customers and the communities we serve.
Research shows that people, especially millennials, want to work, invest, and do business with companies that believe in a mission, particularly around environmental sustainability, Raglin said.
“There’s an opportunity to improve engagement with our workforce, and there’s an opportunity to improve our messaging to customers and investors,” Raglin said. “At the end of the day, that’s going to create value in various ways.”
A longtime contributor to NS sustainability
Norfolk Southern hired Raglin 24 years ago, in 1996, as a ranger at the company’s Brosnan Forest conference center, located in South Carolina’s coastal plains in Dorchester. Fresh out of college with a degree in wildlife biology, Raglin became a jack-of-all-trades at the Forest, rising to manager four years later. He became general manager facilities in 2006, overseeing both the Forest and NS’ Palatka facility in Florida, a small conference center used primarily for customer-engagement sessions.
Raglin has been a key player in NS sustainability since the railroad established a formal program in 2007 and created the position of corporate sustainability officer. In 2008, Raglin helped NS pioneer a conservation easement with the Lowcountry Land Trust in South Carolina that permanently protects 12,488 acres of the 14,405-acre Forest preserve from development, including 6,000 acres of ecologically important longleaf pine forest. At the time, the agreement was the largest land conservation easement in the Southeastern U.S.
An approach that’s good for business and the environment
Since then, Raglin has helped make NS a corporate leader in conservation capitalism, a business approach that turns conservation initiatives into opportunities for profit. The goal is to achieve outcomes that both enable economic development and generate environmental benefits.
At Brosnan Forest, for example, Raglin led efforts in 2015 to create a wetland mitigation bank that has restored valuable wildlife habitat while supporting economic growth in the region. The nearly 300-acre wetland bank is generating credits that NS can sell to developers to offset wetlands impacted by development elsewhere in the region. The credits could be sold to support development of rail-served industrial projects that would generate new business for the company.
In the latest Forest initiative, Raglin is overseeing a 6½-mile stream restoration project that will generate around 100,000 stream credits. As part of the project, NS is restoring about 1,100 acres of historic wetlands and uplands, re-establishing an entire ecosystem with native plants and hardwood trees.
“It’s about creating environmental and economic value,” Raglin said. “It’s a win for the environment, it’s a win for the Norfolk Southern, and it’s a win for economic development.”
Additionally, Raglin played a leading role in NS’ Trees and Trains program, the company’s largest environmental initiative to date. In this five-year project, launched in 2010, NS partnered with Green Trees, the leading carbon reforestation program in North America, to restore 10,000 acres of former woodlands in the Mississippi Delta. As the trees mature, NS expects to earn over 1.1 million carbon credits that we can use to offset our own carbon emissions or sell on the open market. Through Raglin’s efforts, NS already is selling carbon credits generated from our woodlands at Brosnan Forest.
Over his years at the Forest, Raglin has developed a broad network of internal and external contacts that will provide a base of support to begin transforming our sustainability program.
“I believe we’ll be able to gain traction quickly because of my past experience working and collaborating with all of these people,” he said. “This job has been an aspiration of mine ever since the company created the position. I’m looking forward to the great things we can achieve together.”