What is sustainable forestry, and why it matters for your buying choices

Inward Voyage Mural Wallpaper at Forest Homes

In this photo: Inward Voyage Mural Wallpaper 

For many, the term “sustainable forestry” may seem like an oxymoron. How can logging ever be sustainable when, by definition, it requires that trees be cut down? The complete answer is complex, but if we had to reduce it to one word, it would be “balance.” When we as consumers purchase products made from sustainably managed forests, we are actually contributing to the health of the planet. Read more in this article about sustainable forestry and why it matters for our purchasing decisions.

What's sustainable forestry?

Forestry is the practice of studying and managing forests, plantations, and related natural resources. Modern forestry generally concerns itself with assisting forests to provide timber as raw material for wood products while balancing wildlife habitat, natural water quality regulation, recreation, landscape and community protection, as well as aesthetically appealing landscapes, and a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Sustainable forestry is about protecting the future of our biosphere, making sure we have fresh air to breath, and clean water to drink. It is also about making a global economy sustain its needs for wood in the present as well as the future by adopting strategies that promote replenishment, jobs and a healthier greener environment, offering more forest space for biodiversity. It is also about ensuring the future of our forests, enhancing our wildlife habitat, and protecting water.

The hallmark of sustainable forestry, from a purely ecological perspective, is the extent to which forestry practices mimics natural patterns of disturbance and regeneration.

There are many practical steps that a community or business can take to protect the health and longevity of a forest while still profiting from the production and sale of timber and other forest products, such as nuts, fruits, oils, and plants.

Simply stated, sustainable forestry is working with nature to ensure the future of the world's forest for generations to come.

Nebbia Forest Mural Wallpaper at Forest Homes

In this photo: Nebbia Forest Mural Wallpaper

Why does sustainable forestry matter in our purchase decisions?

You would think this is strange but timber, both evergreens and broadleaf trees, are managed around the world as an agricultural crop, albeit slower growing than corn or wheat.

When one sees photographs of rainforests burning around the world, this represents an alternate use of that timberland for agricultural re-use rather than for the valuing of the trees grown on the land.

Responsible and sustainable forestry go hand in hand. Sustainable forest management has a core value, which is achieving balance in the forest ecosystem. This plan assures that the business of timber and the preservation and enhancement of wildlife ecosystem biodiversity are always top of mind. As we mentioned before, forest management should imitate nature in terms of disturbance and regeneration.

It may sound counterintuitive to say this, but using more, not fewer, of the products derived from trees will assure the long-term health of the forest resource around the world. Here is why:

One of the tree's job in the the biosphere is to absorb carbon, while giving humans back precious oxygen. Young trees are aggressive carbon absorbing machines and as they mature, they begin to slow down their absorption and will begin to slowly leach their stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Fully half the weight of dry lumber in use is stored carbon, captured forever. It is through sustainable forest management protocols that the cycle of harvest and replanting where necessary is maintained in a balanced way.

In some cases, clear cutting and replanting is the best management practice. In the case of broadleaf trees, the best practice is to selectively harvest the mature trees, thus opening the forest canopy to allow sunlight and rain to reach the forest floor, encouraging the growth of the young saplings found there.

History has shown the human race to have been less than responsible regarding the sustainable management of our forests. In fairness to our fore-bearers, they needed timber for every part of their lives and had not yet learned the science of sustainable forestry. Over the past 200 years, we as a society have come to understand the value of making sure that our forest resources are available for many generations to come.

As a consumer, you can do your part to help the health of the planet by using wood products in your built environments and taking comfort in its sustainability by looking for the FSC, SFI and PEFC logos / certifications, which we will discuss next in this article.

Remember that the ratio of harvest versus replanting is currently two to one. In well managed forests, every tree harvested is replaced by two. At that rate, even with some natural tree mortality, this ratio represents a model of sustainability for many generations into the future.

In this photo: Nebula Forest Mural Wallpaper

What are the programs overlooking sustainable forestry?

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international body that develops and maintains a globally respected standard for managing forests. This organisation certifies forestry businesses that meet the standard’s strict environmental, social, and economic criteria. Similarly, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is a sustainability leader that stands for future forests, providing supply chain assurances, delivering conservation leadership and supporting education and community engagement.

Also, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is an international, non-profit, non-governmental organisation which promotes sustainable forest management through independent third party certification. It is considered the certification system of choice for small forest owners. 

In recent years increased interest in sustainable forest management initiatives has encouraged the development of market-based certification schemes. Further than forest conservation, forest certification and ensuring standards represent a new basis of value creation and competition in business. See below the logos of these programs.

Sustainable Forestry

What are the main principles of Sustainable Forestry?

Beyond sustainable forest certification, these organisations also provide training to forest communities around the world in methods designed to conserve forests, safeguard wildlife, protect workers, and—critically—to support their efforts to earn a living as responsible forest stewards.

The standards for sustainable forestry are comprised of main principles that cover a range of environmental, social, and economic criteria. Although there are regional variations in how the standard is applied—to address the unique needs of forests, peoples, and economies in different parts of the world—the basic tenets of sustainable forestry remain the same:

a. Establish protected areas and enhance biodiversity

A forest’s biodiversity—including its water resources, soils, plant species, and animal populations—must be conserved. This means that forest managers minimise erosion and protect waterways; avoid the use of chemical pesticides; properly dispose of waste; conserve native tree species and maintain genetic diversity on their land; set aside part of their properties as protected areas where logging is prohibited (including forestland that is steeply sloped, provides habitat for critical wildlife species, and/or serves a culturally or spiritually significant function in the local community); and take other steps to ensure the integrity of the forest. Researchers have found that UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other protected areas benefited from having FSC/Rainforest Alliance Certified forestry businesses as neighbours. And separate studies in Africa and Asia found that certified enterprises did a better job than their non-certified peers of protecting great apes and other mammals.

b. Prevent forest conversion and protect high conservation value forests

The FSC standard requires that forest managers protect natural forests against deforestation, reduce the risk of fires, and take particular care to protect “high conservation value forests.” The latter term is used to describe forests that contain significant concentrations of biodiversity; are located in or include rare or endangered ecosystems; are critical providers of ecosystem services; or are fundamental to meeting the basic needs or defining the cultural identity of forest communities. In Guatemala’s culturally and ecologically significant Petén region, researchers found that over a 20-year period, actively managed FSC-certified forests experienced substantially lower rates of deforestation than nearby protected areas, and forest fires only affected 0.1% of certified land area, compared to 10.4% of protected areas.

c. Have a management plan and harvest accordingly

Logging activities can take many forms, from selective harvesting to limited, small-scale clear-cutting, which, in temperate forests, can mimic natural disturbances such as fires or landslides. To become FSC-certified, forestry operations must put into place a clearly mapped management plan that specifies the number of trees that can be harvested per acre, and the frequency at which this can occur, based on the growth and regeneration rates of the species found in that ecosystem. The goal is to harvest in such a way that allows these species the chance to regenerate, and ensures that the forest’s overall ecological health is maintained, restored, or even enhanced.

Mystic Forest Mural at Forest Homes

In this photo: Mystic Forest Mural Wallpaper

d. Tree plantations have a role to play

Sustainable forestry focuses on keeping natural forests standing. However, the establishment of plantations on already deforested or degraded land can improve the health of an ecosystem and help to meet some of the demand for forest products, taking pressure off of natural forests. To earn FSC certification, plantations must operate according to a management plan that promotes the protection, restoration, and conservation of natural forests.

e. Use reduced impact logging techniques

Many people associate logging with the image of a bulldozer leaving behind a denuded landscape, but it is possible to harvest timber without causing collateral damage to other parts of a forest. Reduced-impact techniques allow loggers to fell and extract trees in a manner that reduces damage to other trees in the stand. This approach also minimises erosion, waste, and carbon emissions.

f. Train employees and keep them healthy

A forestry business that does not protect its workers is not only unethical, but also unsustainable. Well-trained and healthy employees are essential to ensuring that these enterprises function safely and efficiently. In an examination of community-run forestry businesses in Brazil, certified enterprises did a far better job of protecting their workers than their non-certified peers. Members of certified enterprises were four times more likely to have taken part in a safety course; 94% of these businesses offered regular medical exams to their workers; all of the certified enterprises properly washed and stored their protective gear; and 100%—four times as many as non-certified enterprises—offered medical attention to their employees when they were injured on the job.

g. Respect local communities and foster economic development

For forestry businesses to be sustainable, they must operate in harmony with their surroundings. This means more than just the natural ecosystems in which they are located; it also applies to the human neighbours with which they co-exist. It means that a certified business must contribute to the social and economic development of a community by offering its members opportunities for employment and compensating indigenous groups for the traditional knowledge that they share regarding forest species and operations. These are not only socially responsible steps, but they also benefit the environment. Providing jobs to local people, for example, can eliminate the incentive to engage in profitable but destructive activities such as wildlife poaching and illegal logging.

h. Boost income and profitability

Sustainable forestry should have a positive economic impact on its practitioners. The steps that help a business earn certification are the same that require the active management of its forestland, teach employees how to work safely and efficiently, and reduce staff turnover, so it’s no surprise that these steps can also lead to economic growth. Despite the earnings variations reported, a study of 11 FSC-certified forestry enterprises around the world found that FSC-certified wood generated price premiums of up to 50%, and the enterprises that benefited the most tended to be community and small-scale producers in the tropics. And in Mexico, a large FSC-certified community forestry enterprise that received technical assistance from the Rainforest Alliance increased its production volume, while staying within the parameters for sustainable harvesting; created an additional 286 jobs (a 12% increase over the baseline); and earned a 10% price premium for the wood that it sold to a certified buyer.

Bottom Line

Sustainable Forestry consists of a series of standards that stand for the future conservation of forests. Organisations as Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certifies products with a label to help with consumer identification and understanding. In Europe, for example, a common label for products is the FSC, which guarantees that the wood used comes from "sustainably managed" forests.

The sustainable forestry initiative programme integrates responsible environment practices and sound business practices for the benefit of landowners, shareholders, customers and the people they serve. The goal is to promote environmentally sound, socially beneficial, and economically viable global forest management, by establishing a globally recognised and applied set of forest management principles.

At Forest Homes, we offer and will continue to make available interior products that support Sustainable Forestry management to guarantee the better protection of our planet's forests for today's and future generations to come. Read more on How to recognise Sustainable Decor here.


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