Elements IQ Podcast – Responsibly Sourced FiberMarch 2020
Podcast series: Elements® IQ Points (FPO)
Podcast title: Responsibly Sourced Fiber – Forest Flyover
Hello, I’m Audra Pagano. Welcome to Elements® IQ. Elements is Georgia-Pacific’s sustainability platform designed to make sustainability easy to understand and implement. An important part of our Elements platform is the Elements® IQ podcast series. This series provides insights and perspectives that will help audiences better understand and navigate sustainability’s complexities.
Many are familiar with the poetic phrase “I think I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” Trees and forests are indeed incredible and beautiful. Forests currently cover approximately 31% of the world’s land surface. In addition to their beauty, forests help improve our lives in a number of ways:
- They help protect air and water quality
- They sequester, or lock away carbon, thus helping to regulate Earth’s climate
- Forests provide habitats for wildlife (including threatened and endangered species)
- And they offer a range of recreational opportunities through which we can connect with nature
Joining me today is Bobby Maddrey – Manager of Global Sustainable Forestry and Biodiversity for Georgia-Pacific. Bobby, thanks for joining us on Elements IQ.
Thank you Audra. It’s good to be with you.
Let’s start with deforestation. It is a term that is familiar yet confusing to most people. Can you explain what deforestation is and provide perspective as to how big of an issue it is?
Deforestation occurs when forests are permanently converted to other land uses. This conversion means that the various benefits you just mentioned are lost. Many countries in the world, outside of the U.S. and Canada lack sufficient protection for forests or lack a strong rule of law to enforce protections that keep forests from being cleared for other uses or do not ensure the sustainable harvesting and use of forest resources.
Deforestation is a real concern. To give you some perspective, the United Nations reports that global deforestation continues at an alarming rate: 17 million acres of forest are lost every year. That’s an area roughly the size of Indiana. The UN also indicates deforesation is considered to be the second leading cause of climate change, accounting for nearly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. If these numbers are even half right, that is cause for concern.
Outside of the U.S. and Canada, the loss of forestlands continues at a significant rate, predominantly in developing, tropical countries. According to the World Wildlife Fund more than 80% of deforestation between 2010 and 2030 is likely to happen in just 11 places – none of which are in North America.
Wow, those numbers are startling. It’s hard to envision a section of forest the size of Indiana disappearing each year. While it sounds like we are in pretty good shape in North America, losing that much forestland across the globe is a problem. What is driving the deforestation?
Well, agriculture is estimated to be the biggest driver, accounting for around 80% of deforestation worldwide. And developing nations face a challenge: having to feed a growing population and creating economic opportunities while trying to balance the demands of responsible forestry. Mining infrastructure and urban expansion are also important drivers in many of these countries. In (sub)tropical Asia for example, conversion of natural forest to non-native tree plantations also threatens forests. Illegal logging is another cause of deforestation in many developing countries. The root causes for illegal logging include poverty, weak governance and corruption, of course.
So why are things so much better in North America?
Well, in historical times, the United States had fairly significant challenges with deforestation. Through responsible forest management practices, the U.S. now sustainably manages its forests. The most recent U.S. Forest Service study indicated that between 2007 and 2012, the nation’s forests increased by approximately 7 million acres.
In concert with this progress, forest owners and environmental NGO’s have continued to work together to identify high risk habitats in the US and take additional steps to protect such lands.
As a good example, Georgia-Pacific has been working to protect forests with high conservation value (including endangered forests and special areas) and maintaining natural hardwood forests, these can be vulnerable to conversion to pine forests. GP collaborated with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Rainforest Action Network and, also, the Dogwood Alliance to characterize and map these forest areas. GP won’t buy wood fiber from these areas except in unique situations when active forest management is needed to improve habitat for endangered, rare and/or vulnerable species. We help maintain stands of natural hardwood trees in our operating areas by not sourcing pine fiber from any natural hardwood sites that were converted to pine plantations after 2008.
That is great. I didn’t realize Georgia-Pacific was doing so much to continue to help improve forests here in the United States. So done right, responsible forest management can indeed protect forests while still allowing for trees to be harvested to help meet the needs of society.
Yes, that’s right. Responsibly harvested forests, where harvesting follows prescribed practices with new trees planted to establish new forests, is not deforestation and often helps prevent deforestation by providing for the financial needs of the land owners through the ongoing sale of fiber. In fact, the United Nations vision for foresty states “Sustainability managed forests are healthy, productive, and renewable ecosystems, which provide vital goods and ecosystem services to people worldwide.”
It’s important to ensure that in our zeal to address the critical issue of forest loss, policies or metrics don’t confuse harvesting in well-managed forests with deforestation. This is particularly important when those managed forests are harvested under assurances of long-term sustainability.
At this point, I assume that most businesses and consumers want to help prevent deforestation and promote responsible forestry. So how do we ensure that the products we procure contain responsible sourced fibers?
Certifications are one tool that can help assure companies and consumers their paper products come from responsibly managed forests. While certifications can be complex, let me provide a high level overview of the different types of fiber certification, as well as the primary certification organizations.
Let’s start with: Raw Material Procurement (or “Sourcing Certification”) – This is the most common type of fiber certification. A number of certified sourcing programs have been developed to ensure that fiber coming from uncertified forests have been verified to be low risk. This certification applies to every single ton of fiber that GP purchases. It is a means to validate our legal and responsible purchase of domestic family owned fiber, market fiber, and recycled fiber.
Companies must demonstrate that raw material in their supply chain comes from legal and responsible sources where trained loggers are used in all harvesting activities, and that forestry best management practices are followed.
A second method is Chain-of-Custody – this is an accounting system that tracks certified fiber content from forests through production and manufacturing to the end product. Product claims can be made based upon the amount of fiber tracked from certified lands, purchased fiber and post-consumer recycled content.
A third type is Forest Management certification – It covers the certification of actual forests. This involves a voluntary process whereby an independent third party works with forest landowners to assess the quality of forest management against a set of standards predetermined by a public or private certification organization, It’s a way of informing consumers about the sustainability of the forests from which wood and other forest products were produced. According to the United Nations, only 11% of the world’s forests are certified, unfortunately.
Leading third party certification organizations include SFI, which is the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, FSC, which is Forest Stewardship Council and PEFC, which is the Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification (PEFC). Some of these offer both Raw Material Sourcing Certification and Chain of Custody Certification alternatives.
Bobby, thank you for this helpful overview. As you mentioned, this area can be very complex but the key takeaway for me is that customers can help ensure their fiber is being sourced responsibly by evaluating their fiber products portfolio and ensuring that all items at least have certified sourcing.
That’s a wrap for this episode of Elements IQ. For additional knowledge on forestry and fiber, you can listen to our companion Elements IQ podcasts – Deeper into the Forest and Recycled Fiber, as well as explore curated content found on the Elements IQ web page.
If you need more information regarding GP PRO’s sustainability efforts, please visit GPPRO.com and click on the ‘Solutions’ tab.
GP Supporting Content
How sustainable forestry supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals
The Benefits of Responsible Forest Management
The Role of Forest Certification
Forests and Water, Climate Change, and Biodiversity