Everybody pretty much agrees that third-party forest certification is the best tool available for verifying that the wood fiber used to make paper comes from responsibly managed forests. So, why isn’t all the fiber used in U.S. paper products certified? It’s a matter of availability … there just isn’t enough certified fiber out there.
One big reason is the cost and complexity of the certification process. Millions of small, family-owned forests supply wood fiber for U.S.-manufactured paper, but most of this land isn’t certified because landowners lack both the technical expertise and financial resources to make it happen. If we’re going to solve this problem and make significant gains, we need to reach out to these landowners and educate them about certification, guide them in developing sustainable forest management plans and make the process affordable. It won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight, but we’re seeing a growing number of group certification initiatives that prove it’s doable.
One of the most successful endeavors to date was conducted in Maine, where major paper buyers and producers – Time Inc., Hearst Corporation, NewPage Corporation, Sappi Fine Papers North America and Verso Paper Corp. — joined forces with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) Inc. to pilot a successful group certification model. This model made it possible for small and medium-sized landowners to develop, implement and coordinate responsible forest management plans more simply and cost effectively. The result was an additional 1.4 million acres certified to the SFI forest management standard in Maine.
To build on the successful Maine pilot project, the SFI Forest Partnerssm program was established in 2012 by founding partners Time Inc., the National Geographic Society, Macmillan and Pearson. Each made a five-year commitment to the program’s goals to grow the certified forestland base by 5 million acres by the end of 2014, beginning in the Southeast United States, and by 10 million acres by the end of 2017. The route to achieving these goals: continuing innovation in group certification that fosters new opportunities for collaboration, cost effectiveness and certification incentives. The SFI Forest Partners program is also working to facilitate the uptake of fiber from certified forestlands through the supply chain by increasing chain-of-custody certification of small and medium-sized mills, and to influence responsible forestry beyond those lands through fiber sourcing certification.
Another great effort is the Center for Forest & Wood Certification (CFWC) operated out of the University of Kentucky, Department of Forestry Extension. Operated with sustaining, multiple-year commitments from companies like Domtar Corporation, NewPage and Time Inc. along with funds from a variety of educational, economic development and forestry organizations, the Center’s focus is regional: Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, and Missouri. Its emphasis: breaking through certification bottlenecks so the private sector can more effectively participate and benefit from certification. CFWC programs include education and training; technical assistance; group certification for forest owners, loggers, and industry; and certification management.
The point of these efforts, of course, is not certification for certification sake, but to make sure that U.S. forests are managed responsibly to provide eco-services, sustainable products, recreational opportunities and aesthetic beauty for generations to come. In a 2011 article, Family Forest Owners Rule!, Brett Butler, a research forester with the U.S. Forest Service, provides a terrific perspective on why reaching out to family forest owners is so important to keeping America’s forests healthy and productive. It’s a quick read with lots of data from the U.S. Forest Service’s National Woodland Owner Survey. Among the most interesting facts are that only 4 percent of family forest owners (accounting for 17 percent of family forestland) have written forest management plans and only 14 percent of the owners (37 percent of the land) have received professional forest management advice.
With 264 million acres of family owned forestland in the U.S. and nearly half of that land owned by people with 100 acres or less, there’s plenty of opportunity to get involved and grow programs like the SFI Forest Partners, CFWC and others!
For More Information:
SFI Forest Partners Program
Barry Graden, Director for Southeast U.S. Community Outreach
Center for Forest & Wood Certification
855-579-2690 (toll free)
For a list of independent organizations that offer FSC group certification, click here.
Kathi Rowzie is a Two Sides guest blogger and a sustainability communications consultant with The Gagliardi Group in Memphis, Tennessee.