The Forest for the Trees: Understanding Sustainable Forestry

Green forest with sun in background shining through the trees

From coniferous boreal woodlands to lush tropical jungles, forests play a crucial role in all aspects of life on Earth. They convert CO2 into oxygen, provide food and shelter, and have even been linked to better mental health. They also play an essential role in global climate regulation.

Although essential to the very existence of life on this planet, trees are under constant attack from problematic deforestation and illegal logging practices. Since the onset of the industrial revolution, deforestation has become a growing threat to the Earth’s global ecosystem, resulting in a heightened need for sustainable forestry management practices.

While some companies, such as furniture manufacturers and paper mills, are directly connected to forest usage, the fact is that almost all companies rely on tree products in some way, just through the use of everyday items like toilet paper, pallets, and packaging.

The Catch-22 of Tree Usage

If left unchecked, deforestation will make it difficult for life to survive. However, this is an extremely complex issue, and the solution isn’t as simple as universally ending the practice of cutting down trees. Doing so would not only be impossible to implement, but would also be hugely disruptive, likely causing a slew of unintended consequences. Furthermore, it’s estimated that 1.6 billion people across the globe rely on forestry to earn a living.

Since eliminating this practice completely is not a viable option, the question then becomes: How do we convert damaging deforestation practices into sustainable forestry systems? And what kind of supply chain practices can those outside of the forestry industry implement in order to mitigate the issue?

Silviculture: The Heart of Sustainable Forestry

According to the USDA Forest Service, silviculture “is the art and science of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of forests and woodlands to meet the diverse needs and values of landowners and society such as wildlife habitat, timber, water resources, restoration, and recreation on a sustainable basis.”

With silviculture as the cornerstone of sustainable forest management practices, forestry and lumber professionals alike are equipped with the knowledge and tools to minimize environmental damage and promote growth while replicating natural patterns of regeneration and destruction.

The first step toward achieving this involves an in-depth assessment of forestland, which generally includes an inventory of trees and cataloging of wildlife species (especially any endangered animals), as well as a recording of related factors, such as proximity to urban regions.

Once this information is gathered, specifics about harvesting can then be determined, including what and how much can be harvested, as well as the most appropriate harvesting method. Various methods may be used, including pruning, cutting down older trees, and thinning out specific areas or populations. Rather than simply destroying the trees, each of these methods is designed to promote growth, health, and diversity.

In order to maintain the balance of loss, the next step involves the replenishment of forests through the planting of new trees. Specific tree species are chosen based on the type of tinder desired and whether or not they will be a good fit within the existing ecosystem. Other common practices include continuous health monitoring, controlled burning to promote forest regeneration, and working with local communities toward forest preservation goals.

Branching Out: Supply Chain Practices That Make a Big Impact

Whether or not a company deals directly with forestry, trees and deforestation come into play at almost every kind of company — often in the most mundane aspects of business. Regardless of how close a company is to the root, there is a wide range of sustainable supply chain and procurement practices that companies of all levels can implement, including:

  • Understanding and analyzing the ways in which timber and timber products are used.
  • Exploring areas in which alternative materials, such as composites or recycled wood and wood pulp products, can be utilized. Also exploring alternative processes, such as digitization.
  • Setting sets of standard practices that will be required from various levels of the supply chain. For example, requiring certain kinds of documentation, such as chain-of-custody, certification of origin, sustainable forest management certifications, export documents, and purchase contracts.
  • Mapping out the timber supply chain to understand where timber and timber products are being sourced from, and identifying areas known for irresponsible deforestation and illegal logging.
  • Engaging directly with suppliers to ensure that timber is being sourced through legal, sustainable methods.
  • Only using timber and timber products that have been certified by a third party, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PECF).
  • Using innovative technology, such as blockchain, to increase transparency and traceability. Blockchain can be used to maintain accurate records at various levels of the supply chain, and can even identify when and where illegal wood has entered the chain.
  • Carefully observing sustainability practices to not only promote legitimate forestry efforts, but also drive down the value of illegally and/or unethically obtained timber.

Great Oaks From Little Acorns Grow: The Future of Sustainable Forestry

Humble and stoic, trees are the unsung heroes of the planet. From their leaves to their roots, they provide Earth with the resources necessary to sustain life. The combined efforts of sustainable forest management and conscientious supply chain systems can not only help to curtail the damage of deforestation, but also contribute to a healthier world and more resilient economy.


Image Credit: Ruslan Ivantsov/

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