People rely on trees and forests for survival, livelihoods, and convenience. Products made from wood surround us in our daily lives. Trees take years or decades to grow so sustaining a steady supply of wood requires pre-planning. As the last tree in a forest falls to the ground it is way too late to say “Let’s plant some trees”.
Humans are not great at thinking ahead. If we were, we might not be in our current predicament of living on a warming planet with a growing population and shrinking resources.
Luckily we do have a good track record at adapting and changing even though we don’t always like or want to. By practicing sustainable forest management we can and are reshaping our relationship with forests and looking to the future.
Why are Forests Important?
First and foremost forests are beautiful magical places in their own right. Forests offer us a place to walk, sit, and explore, a place to renew our spirit and connect with another part of nature.
Humans seem to view practically everything on earth as a resource for our use. Forests provide “services” like absorbing and storing CO2, moderating the climate, retaining and distributing water, preventing erosion, and furnishing living quarters for 50-70% of the world’s plants and animals 1, 2 as well as millions of people. Forests supply a renewable flow of “goods” such as wood, food, and rubber, and support the livelihoods of over a billion people 1.
We cannot survive without forests and yet we cut down or burn 30 million acres of forest each year 1. A prime example of not thinking ahead.
Fortunately, some people in every generation are good at looking to the future, planning, and getting other people on board. Forward thinking people have been practicing sustainable forest management for millennia by making sure some trees are always left standing in a forest, respecting the interconnectedness of forest trees, plants, and animals, and planting new trees to replace trees that have died or been cut down.
Sustainable forest management is not new. Its globalization is.
What is Sustainable Forest Management?
Definitions vary but in general sustainable forest management is the thoughtful and careful preservation, use, and management of public and private forests. The overarching goal is to ensure forest goods and services are available for current and future generations. It’s a human-centric approach that happens to benefit all denizens of earth.
How Does Sustainable Forest Management Work?
Over the past couple of decades, sustainable forest management organizations have sprung up across the globe. They endeavor to help balance the needs of the environment, people, and businesses. These organizations include Forest Stewardship Council, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and PEFC, to name a few.
Sustainable forest management organizations develop standards, establish certification criteria, and promote sustainable forestry. Third party companies ensure that criteria are met by forest managers, forest product manufacturers, and others wishing to obtain certification.
Forests and companies that achieve certification may use the seal of the certifying organization to inform potential business partners and customers that they practice sustainable forest management and / or source materials from sustainably managed forests.
Sustainable Forest Management Certification
Standards for sustainable forest management certification may vary depending on the certifying organization but generally include:
- Maintaining forest health and productivity
- Conserving biodiversity and protecting endangered species
- Complying with laws and international treaties
- Respecting indigenous people’s rights
- Enhancing worker and local community social and economic well-being
- Documenting, monitoring, and assessing management plans and outcomes
A lot can happen between the forest and the store shelf. Chain-of-custody certification ensures that wood and other forest materials sourced from certified forests are tracked through the supply chain to the end user.
Mixed and Recycled Certifications
In order to encourage more businesses to source at least part of their forest materials through responsibly managed forests, some organizations offer a mixed certification. This allows forest products manufacturers to mix certified material with non-certified material. Generally, the non-certified material must also meet certain requirements, like it was not obtained by illegal logging.
Reclaimed wood and recycled wood fiber certifications recognize companies for reusing forest materials.
Watch the video below for a brief history of how the Forest Stewardship Council started with one business partner on board and grew to be an international organization.
Imagine Your Daily Life without Products Made from Wood
Stop for a moment and look around you. Now make a list of the first 10 things you see that are made from wood or another forest product.
I did this exercise while sitting in my home office writing this post. Here’s my list: house, desk, calendar, printer paper, note pad, box of facial tissue, book, picture frame, cardboard box, and a pad of sticky notes. I could have gone on but stopped at ten.
It’s unrealistic to think we will stop buying toilet paper, furniture, or items packaged in cardboard boxes but we can look for and buy products that come from responsibly managed forests.
For a global perspective on the world’s forests (past, present, and future) read State of the World’s Forests 2012 prepared by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
- Bags – Paper vs. Plastic: Environmental Impact
- Paper Facial Tissue – History and Environmental Impact
- Paper Towels – Use and Environmental Impact
- Paper vs. Cloth Table Napkins – Which are Greener?
- Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
- Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)
- Rainforest Alliance – Our Work in Sustainable Forestry
- Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)
- United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) – State of the World’s Forests 2012
- USDA Forest Service – Forest Sustainability Reporting in the United States
- Wikipedia – Sustainable Forest Management
- World Wildlife Fund – Why We Need GFTN and How it Works