Speaking For the Trees: Business Collaboration and Sustainable Forestry

Deforestation has been a hot-button sustainability issue for as long as I can remember, and despite all the progress made on this front, there is still a long way to go in terms of environmentally (and socially) responsibly sourced paper products. Last week, I was fortunate to attend a conference on “The Path to Sustainable Forestry,” held for both businesses and consumers, that hoped to address this predicament.

The seminar began with remarks from Chris McLaren, the Chief Marketing and Market Development Officer of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). He provided a detailed analysis of the progress the FSC has made in sustainable forestry–from its inception in 1994 to the 224 million hectares that are FSC-certified today. This number represents 16.8% of all global production forests, the support of NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund, and the participation of thousands of global brands like Amazon and The Home Depot. Not only has the FSC become a global authority on sustainable forestry, but according to McLaren, the label has become a beacon of transparency in an industry where sustainable practices are important, yet difficult to ensure. 

The next speaker, Lois Forde-Kohler, speaks to these goals and subsequent struggles from the perspective of a successful business. As Procter & Gamble’s (the corporation behind Charmin, Puffs, and more) Sustainability Director, she described the competing forces that all companies face. Although sustainability initiatives are becoming increasingly popular with consumers, and thus good for business, there are many limitations on company’s abilities to invest in them. When Forde-Kohler asked the audience of business representatives what their struggles were, responses varied–regardless, from higher costs to transparency issues with suppliers, the desire to affect positive environmental change was overshadowed by uncertainty. To amend this, Forde-Kohler made her final point on the importance of “business collaboration,” because she believes that following each other and learning from each other’s experiences is necessary for everyone on the path to sustainability, regardless of how far along they are. 

Ron Jarvis is the Chief Sustainability Officer for The Home Depot, and he ended the discussion by sharing his company’s experience with accountability during their transition to more sustainable practices. Following protests in Atlanta regarding Home Depot’s reliance on old growth wood–a very unsustainable, environmentally destructive practice–Jarvis explained that the company chose to “listen and take accountability for our products.” By moving forward with knowledge gained from two years of research, headed by real environmental scientists, Home Depot developed a “Wood Purchasing Policy” that eliminated wood sourcing from endangered areas and used only FSC-certified wood (from locations like the Amazon rainforest), among many other important, concrete steps. In sharing this – both the early failures and present success of their initiatives – he responded to the concerns of the audience by showing them that it is possible to divest from deforestation by investing in the FSC.

Overall, the conversation emphasized the importance of transparency, collaboration, and accountability in terms of businesses becoming more sustainable. This is in stark contrast to many climate initiatives today that focus on reducing individual consumption and carbon footprints – like the importance of reducing shower lengths or using plastic straws. While these steps are important on an individual level, this conference addressed the massive role that corporations play and emphasized steps they should take. These key points of transparency, collaboration, and accountability are necessary, for both businesses and consumers, to make real progress in halting deforestation and fostering a more sustainable society. 

The discussion on June 3rd was moderated by Heather Clancy, the Senior Vice President and Editorial Director of the GreenBiz Group.

Anna Langlois

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