Forests in Focus: Helping Family Forest Owners Meet Marketplace Sustainability Demands

Forests in Focus: Helping Family Forest Owners Meet Marketplace Sustainability Demands

September 05, 2018

Tom Pollock of GreenBlue discusses an innovative new tool allowing major corporations and family forest owners to work together on shared conservation goals

Family forest owners play a huge role in the U.S. in providing raw material for paper, packaging, solid wood, along with many other economic, environmental and social benefits that healthy forests offer.

There are about 10.7 million family forest ownerships across the U.S. who collectively control 36% or 290 million acres of the nation’s forestland.[1] Although the average family forest is less than 100 acres, an estimated 47% of the U.S. wood supply flows through supply chains from this family-owned land.[2] Although demand for certified fibre is high, only a very small percentage (1%) of these family forests are certified  by one of the third-party audited systems (such as the Forest Stewardship Council, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative or the American Tree Farm System), which provide independent verification that lands producing wood are managed to a set of sustainability standards.

And this is where Forests in Focus (FF) comes in.

According to Tom Pollock of GreenBlue, a nonprofit dedicated to the sustainable use of materials in society, their Forest Products Working Group (FPWG) in partnership with the American Forest Foundation (AFF), looked closely at why there were not more certified forests in the U.S. They quickly found that family forest owners were “the key to solving this riddle.” There are a number of reasons why family forest owners (and therefore a significant part of U.S. forests) are not likely to participate in forest certification, which stem from their motivations for owning woodlands. Most family forest owners cite beauty and scenery, part of home, and wildlife habitat as the top three reasons for owning woods or forest.[3]  Timber production, however, is not among the top reasons for families to own woods or forests. Understanding these motivations was key to explaining why forest certification rates remained low for family forest owners.

Pollock said knowing that a large proportion of wood for forest products was coming from family owned forests and understanding that forest certification was not the only or most appropriate tool for evaluating their sustainability, led to the development of a new tool (Forests in Focus, FF) to assess risk and identify opportunities for conservation impacts in forests across the U.S.

Here are Tom Pollock’s answers to questions about FF during a June 2018 interview with Two Sides.

Which organizations are involved?

GreenBlue and the FPWG have been working with the AFF from almost the very beginning. The FPWG is a collaboration of about 20 companies (including Staples, Target, McDonald’s, Mars, Domtar, Georgia-Pacific, and Sappi North America) across the paper and packaging supply chain and from different industry sectors that work together to find solutions to shared challenges. The USDA Forest Service and Esri (GIS mapping and software) are key partners who are working with us to build the tool. We have also reached out to stakeholders including NGOs, industry associations, forest certification programs and academia during the process and will continue to do so.

What is the objective of Forests in Focus?

Simply put, the objective of FF is to assess the sustainability risks in the landscapes where we source forest products. We also provide opportunities for brand owners, manufacturers, agencies and conservation groups to collaborate in achieving positive conservation impacts through the engagement of family forest owners.  As a powerful visibility and transparency tool, FF provides users with tools to communicate their commitment to sustainable forest management to consumers, shareholders, and other stakeholders. Along with certified and recycled content, FF will help stakeholders across the supply chain meet sustainable fiber sourcing goals.

Explain to us how Forests in Focus works.

FF will employ aggregation and analysis of publicly available data to assess sustainability at the landscape level.  Forest certification, for example, verifies the use of specific practices at the parcel level, whereas FF is designed to assess how practices “roll up” to forest sustainability across an entire landscape. The FF approach makes it possible to evaluate and assess risks and have visibility into the sourcing from forests owned by the roughly 22 million family landowners in the U. S. Because the majority of lands do not participate in certification, family woodland owners are often excluded, unfairly, from supply chains that require only certified fiber. FF now brings family forests into sustainable procurement decisions.

Additionally, and most importantly, the FPWG and AFF recognize that for any effort to be truly successful it must operate on the guiding principle to “bring together the forest products supply chain and its stakeholders to collaborate on positive conservation impacts.”  Unlike other approaches that simply assess risk, FF will actively and transparently identify risk and associated patterns to reveal opportunities and drive real, positive impacts on the ground.

When a user, such as a large corporation, logs into FF and finds the woodbasket where they are sourcing material, they will see what conservation opportunities are happening in that area and how they can provide support. For example, if protecting clean water is part of the corporate brand’s sustainability strategy, they can use FF to partner with conservation agencies, NGOs and their manufacturer to invest in repairing streams and rivers in the area of family forests they are sourcing from.  This is a key point: FF will provide a mechanism where supply chain partners can work together with family forest owners on shared conservation goals.

How can companies or individuals get involved with Forests in Focus?

As we proceed through the development stage of the tool with our partners, we invite companies, academics, and government agencies who would like to learn about FF to contact us at Participation in the Forests Products Working Group is open to all Sustainable Packaging Coalition members.

Have there been any success stories to date?

The process that got us to this point has been the main success story. We have come a long way and learned a great deal from starting with “How do we fix certification?” to building a landscape-based approach to assessing responsible forest management that includes the family forest owners in the conversation and identifies opportunities to invest in conservation impacts.

The outcomes of FF are good for everyone because sustainable forests need markets that support them and companies committed to sustainable forest management will have a sustainable supply of raw materials.

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Image credit: allouphoto – Fotolia

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