Whoever first made the observation that an individual “couldn’t see the forest for the trees” was pointing to a common problem — particularly about forests themselves.
While many, including myself, view trees as beautiful and crucial to our way of life, as a sustainability professional I know that spending all one’s time focusing on individual trees — both literally and figuratively — can have a negative impact on the broader forest. And as beautiful and as important as a tree is, it’s the forest and its future that my sustainability organization is dedicated to supporting.
That’s because I see the life-sustaining values that the entire forest can provide, such as cleaning the air we breathe, purifying the water we drink, providing habitats for fish and wildlife, and creating places for recreation. In fact, 95 per cent of the 115 million hectares of forest land that are third-party-certified to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Forest Management Standard are available to the public for recreation.
While I love parks, most people think that parks and protected areas are the only mechanisms to address conservation objectives. That’s not true. Well-managed forests that include timber harvesting can be actively managed to provide habitat to maintain or recover species, to increase carbon storage and to purify our water.
Working forests that are responsibly managed provide us not only with these conservation benefits, but also with the jobs that can sustain rural communities, and life-enhancing products such as homes that provide our shelter, books and paper that support culture and literacy, and renewable and recyclable packaging for food and consumer products.
Because forests can also contribute to climate change through wildfires, insect infestations and disease, that means managing a forest is a vital tool to keep forests healthy and thriving. And remember, forest products store carbon. When a building is constructed of lumber, or furniture and flooring is installed in a home, the sequestered carbon still remains from the time the product was part of the forest. Chairs, tables and construction lumber — even paper products — are carbon banks, maintaining the CO2 in place. If you’ve bought a forest product, view it as a point of pride.
It might seem paradoxical at first, but it’s no less true: If we want to keep our forests healthy to sustain biodiversity, but also to sustain rural communities, then we have a responsibility to recognize that forest products from well-managed forests, including certified forests, are a way to do this.
Moving someone from guilt to pride in using forest products has a great deal to do with understanding the clear distinction between deforestation and responsible forestry.
Responsible forestry includes harvesting and the replanting or regeneration of the forest, whereas deforestation means the permanent loss of a forest, where the forest has been converted to another use, and is no longer a forest. That’s a concern because when it’s no longer a forest, then as a society we lose those life-sustaining values that forests provide. If we don’t value forest products, the forest is at risk of conversion to another resource use or a public use that isn’t renewable.
The best way to avoid this unintended — and even anti-environment — consequence is to choose responsibly sourced forest products over other options. That places economic value in the hands of the forest-products supply chain, which in turn is good for the forest’s future. If well-managed forests and forest products derived from them are valued and recognized, it sends a message to keep the forests as forests, not to convert them to another use, and keep them responsibly managed.
How can you know you’ve bought a forest product from a healthy, responsibly managed forest? My organization can help, as can a number of others.
SFI invests in forest research through conservation partnerships across North America, and administers a sustainable forestry standard that ensures responsible management. Our non-profit organization is overseen by a diverse board with representatives from Canada and the U.S. Canadian board members include the CEOs of Ducks Unlimited Canada, Habitat for Humanity Canada and the Canadian Invasive Species Council, as well as labour, indigenous and academic leaders.
Seeing the forest for the trees means understanding some crucial facts: If the product you just purchased comes from a responsibly managed forest, then it’s good for you, it’s good for workers, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for our forests and it’s great for our shared quality of life.
So go ahead, feel good about using renewable and responsibly sourced forest products.
Kathy Abusow is president and CEO of SFI Inc., which works to show how responsible forest management can maximize the environmental, economic and social values that matter to all of us. sfiprogram.org