When was the last time you thought about how much you rely on forests? From helping purify drinking water, to providing building material for our homes, to becoming the paper in our books, trees and forests provide many environmental services that are crucial to our modern lives.

Every year on March 21st, the UN celebrates the International Day of Forests. As part of this year’s focus on forests and education, here’s a look at a few ways organizations can reduce their impact on forests.

Supporting suppliers and encouraging compliance

Materials harvested from forests go through a long journey before they become part of a final product. Attentive and responsible supply chain management is essential to develop an accurate understanding of how your production processes are impacting forests. Many companies work with their supply chain members to support and improve their ability to source sustainable materials.

Palm oil is widely used in all sorts of consumer products worldwide but has historically been linked to poor forest practices due to its large impacts on deforestation. In response to calls from the public, NGOs, and other stakeholders to address this, many major brands have adopted No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) policies. An effective NDPE policy requires commitments from suppliers that their palm oil sourcing does not involve the clearing of forest or peat for plantations, or the exploitation of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. These commitments also require brands to develop rigorous mechanisms for ensuring that suppliers adhere to these standards. For example, PepsiCo and Nestle are two large, global companies that have more recently developed and begun to implement comprehensive NDPE policies.

Tackling challenges through participation and engagement

No company looking to reduce its impact on forests has to do it alone. There are a wide variety of partnerships, coalitions, and membership initiatives that bring together companies, governments, NGOs, and communities in pursuit of sustainable solutions for the world’s forests. Engaging with some of these projects will help your company further its understanding of forest environments and forest use, enabling you to decide which forest commitments are best suited for your business.

The UN Global Compact is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, and one of the best resources for any organization looking to take its sustainability commitments to the next level. There are also powerful industry-specific initiatives, such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, as well as initiatives that focus specifically on responsible business, agriculture, and forests, such as the Rainforest Alliance’s Business Program.

Setting organization-specific standards and goals

Third-party standards provide effective frameworks for developing commitments to sustainable forest management. Goal-oriented standards such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals give a big picture sense of an organization’s potential sustainable journey . Reports from NGOs such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) give insights into specific forests issues that a company has an interest in and wants to prioritize on. And certifications such as those provided by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) give companies the opportunity to prove that they can meet consumer expectations when it comes to responsible forest management.

However, though these different types of standards can be a useful starting point, there is no better solution than one that is custom-built specifically for an organization’s operations, values, and culture. For example, the companies that score highly on CDP’s annual Forests Questionnaire are able to demonstrate that they have developed a comprehensive, company-specific strategy for assessing and managing their impact on forests. Tetra PAK, for example, has implemented a company-wide responsible procurement program with the goal of only using paperboard from forests certified as well-managed.

As the International Day of Forests 2020 approaches, it is as good a time as any to take a closer look at ways your organization can help responsibly and sustainably manage one of the planet’s most precious resources. It doesn’t take much to Learn to Love Forests—but it will take real, concerted action to preserve them for the use and enjoyment of generations to come.


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