DO we trust BrewDog to save the planet? That’s the question I find myself asking as the publicity ramps up for their planting of a million trees at their Kinrara estate in Strathspey this summer. The problem with the brewer isn’t that they’re greenwashing their emissions reduction plans – I don’t believe they are – it’s that there’s been a little too much punk and soundbite in their “carbon negative” project to allow us to feel they’re sincere. That, and the fact that they belong to the recent wave of green lairds, buying up land and building their own empires of trees.

It shouldn’t be surprising that BrewDog co-founder James Watt shuns that term green laird. “I don’t think it applies to us,” he said in a recent interview with the Press & Journal. “The bottom line is, we as humans are going to have to plant a hell of a lot of trees over the next 25 to 30 years to help take carbon out of the atmosphere. That’s going to require change, and land to hold those trees.”

But “green laird” is definitely what BrewDog has been labelled. As rural economy researcher Magnus Davidson put it in a tweet last week: “ The ownership of the estate qualifies the company for the moniker of ‘laird’ and the land use change to tree-planting and carbon sequestration ‘green’. BrewDog are ‘Green Lairds’ in theory and have earned the title by practice.”

READ MORE: Who will profit from rewilding Scotland? The rich, as usual

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the work of BrewDog is insincere In 2020, the company announced it would offset more emissions than it generated, “double removing” carbon emissions and it has described the planting of its planned Lost Forest at Kinrara as part of a mission to be a “carbon negative” company. That sounds a worthy endeavour.

Yet still, there’s a scepticism around BrewDog, and one that doesn’t seem to be just triggered by recent accusations of workplace bullying and harrassment. Its roots lie perhaps in the fact that too often BrewDog has seemed to be going for soundbite over accuracy.

The company, for instance, was criticised for saying that the Kinrara could capture up to 550,000 tonnes of CO2, a figure that has since been adjusted by the company to one million tonnes over the next 100 years.

One of the reasons that BrewDog set up the Lost Forest project was, Watt has said, because they were struggling to find trustworthy sources of carbon offsets.“We just felt there was just so much smoke and mirrors in this space,” he said, “and that it was full of opportunistic charlatans… While there are some fantastic people in that space as well, it felt like a minefield and was so difficult and challenging. So why not own the problem and do what we can to fix it ourselves?”

But has BrewDog managed to convince us that they are not themselves charlatans? After all, as Magnus Davidson points out, “The criticisms Watt levies at other offsets programmes are criticisms levied at Brewdog’s Lost Forest.”

Actually, on emissions I do see reason to trust them, and that’s the man they hired as consultant, Professor Mike Berners-Lee, author of There Is No Planet B, the go-to brain for the maths on carbon footprint, and an all-round credible figure.

What also makes me less sceptical is that the company is not only offsetting, but also reducing emissions, and investing into sustainability initiatives, including an electric vehicle, a new bio-energy plant, with anaerobic digester, treating wastewater whilst also creating biomethane.

Lost Forest, Watt has said, “has nothing at all to do with making money, it’s going to lose a significant amount of money for us”. That may be true. It may be that most of the so-called green lairds are not in it for money itself, but, like idealistic philanthropists, in order to make the world a better place. But the question remains, should they be the ones who determine how we do that? For, the problem with philanthropy is that, as Paul Valley, author of a book on the subject, has written, “it is always an expression of power.”

For many of us that is the key complaint around Brewdog’s Lost Forest – the question of ownership and power. Though the dominant story of our relationship with the planet is currently greenhouse gas emissions, there are many other stories too.

We need to be aware of the way they impact on each other. Green lairds are not just the hosts or architects of nature solutions, they are part of a phenomenon that is inflating the Scottish land market and changing the way local communities relate to the land.

Magnus Davidson describes the green laird phenomenon as “not a good example of a land based just transition”. It is a transition, yes – and we might want to buy ourselves a can of Lost just to celebrate that – but one without enough just.