Join the Forest Certification Movement to Meet Your Sustainability Goals


An op-ed from an International Paper partner 

By Kathy Abusow

Most people treasure healthy forests and want to ensure that they are around for future generations. One of the best ways to do that is to promote responsible management of working forests through a powerful tool called forest certification: providing landowners with a rigorous, science-based standard of responsible forest management and verifying compliance through independent, third-party audits.

Since the mid-90s, the idea of forest certification has grown from a curiosity to the mainstream of North American conservation. Its value can be seen in hundreds of millions of acres of sustainably managed forests that support local communities while protecting wildlife habitat, clean water and soil, and other elements essential to our environment.

In North America, the key certification programs are the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and American Tree Farm System (ATFS). Overseas, forestlands are certified to the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification and various FSC standards for specific countries and regions.

But despite all this good work, today only 10 percent of the world’s forests are certified, which represents about a quarter of global round wood production. It’s vitally important for all of us to increase the percentage of timberland that is certified to a credible standard, while also promoting responsible forestry on uncertified lands.

Here’s how business leaders can support this movement.

Getting More Forests Certified

Major purchasers of forest products can support sustainable forestry by joining forces to promote responsible practices across the supply chain. For example, in 2012 we launched the SFI Forest Partners Program with founding partners Time Inc., National Geographic Society, Macmillan Publishers and Pearson – four leaders in publishing that committed to promoting sustainability by encouraging more landowners, manufacturers, distributors, customers, conservation groups and government agencies across the supply-chain to become certified. The program’s goal is to certify 10 million acres of forests to the SFI standard by 2017, starting in the U.S. South.

To give an example of how this program can work, look to South Carolina, where the Forestry Commission was interested in having five state forests certified but struggled in a tight budget environment for funding to demonstrate compliance and complete an independent third-party audit of sustainable practices. The Forest Partners stepped up to help, and last month, South Carolina was able to announce that 103,000 acres of land owned by the Forestry Commission and Clemson University were certified to the SFI and American Tree Farm System standards.

Promoting Responsible Forestry on Uncertified Forests

No matter how hard we all try, some forest land will remain uncertified. One reason is that 60 percent of private forest lands are owned by family forest owners; many harvest timber from their land, but it’s not their primary activity. But it’s essential to encourage them to keep their land forested and to practice responsible forestry.

Businesses that purchase wood, paper and packaging can play a role by seeking out certification standards that include fiber-sourcing requirements, which guide the procurement of raw material from uncertified lands. At SFI, for example, we require program participants who own or manage forest lands and those who buy raw materials to show that the fiber in their supply-chain comes from legal and responsible sources, utilizing loggers who are trained in best management practices for water quality; and that they conduct landowner outreach to promote prompt reforestation and measures to address invasive species and other basics associated with responsible forestry.

The future of our forests depends on the actions we take today. Everyone has a role to play in promoting responsible forestry. If you’re truly interested responsible procurement and meeting corporate sustainability goals, choose certified wood, paper, and packaging materials. And for a more proactive role in growing our certified supply, join Time Inc., National Geographic, Macmillan Publishers and Pearson in SFI’s Forest Partners Program. Contact me to learn how you can make a difference now.

Kathy Abusow is President & CEO of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative®.

[image credit: Jason Brown, Flickr cc]

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