COP26 is over. Glasgow is getting back to normal and now the hard work really begins, as we all seek new ways to accelerate our plans to reach Net Zero.

One initiative that is high on the agenda for Edinburgh Napier University’s Business School is ready to go. Indeed, we are so convinced about the wide-ranging benefits of this proposal that we have made a detailed submission to the Scottish Government, urging them to lend their support, not least because our plan will help them attain Scotland’s ambitious carbon reduction targets.

The idea, like all the best ideas, is a simple one and was formed through a workstream of the university’s Impact Investment Symposium – which brings together social enterprise leaders, local entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and investors to consider challenges facing the social enterprise sector.

The core insight is based on the premise that not-for-profit landowners such as social enterprises – which typically own small parcels of land – are not applying for Scottish Forestry grants to plant trees, even though registration body Woodland Carbon Code allows them to do so by ‘aggregating’ parcels as small as one tenth of an acre – the size of a tennis court – into one larger plot.

Why is this important? Because tree planting can generate an income stream via carbon sequestration opportunities as well as providing community benefits and social wellbeing as an amenity. Our action plan is designed to spur smaller plot owners into action, and there is clear impetus across industry sectors to work together with the university.

There are five strands to our plan. We begin with funding a new advisory post through the Forest Development Programme to support landowners with grant applications. Next, we will explore an ‘Allowable Offset’ scheme, where developers of new build projects in Scotland can generate funds to support new woodlands planted by social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations. We will also look at the feasibility of tracking and certifying the end-to-end offset cycle, from planting to product.

A further strand involves working with partners to identify ways to safely reduce existing thresholds for public funding so that small sites can be aggregated with less administrative burden. And finally, we wish to ensure that future funding and policy encourages more new native woodland planting, to support local biodiversity and develop local nature networks that benefits wider communities.

Importantly, the Symposium’s ideas chime with Scottish Government ambitions. The First Minister’s Environmental Council has reiterated the importance of forest planting to mitigate impacts of climate change through sequestration, while enhancing biodiversity and providing space for recreation. Under current plans, woodland creation will increase to 18,000 hectares a year by 2025.

The 6,025 social enterprises in Scotland are each at the heart of their community and this initiative can help unlock the potential of small parcels of land up and down Scotland to provide diversified income streams and create more sustainable organisations. We are keen to work alongside Scottish Government to deliver a better, fairer Scotland for our students and communities.

Gail Boag is Dean of The Business School at Edinburgh Napier University