Just this month, GreenBlue’s Forest Products Working Group, and the American Forest Foundation (AFF) hosted the Woodland Owner and Brand Owner Summit with family forest owners and representatives from brands, including Staples; Mars, Incorporated; McDonald’s USA; HAVI Global; Time, Inc; and Macmillian Publishing; to discuss their respective values and challenges relative to sustainable forest management and opportunities to work together meet their goals.
Family landowners, who make up the largest ownership group in the United States, are estimated to provide 47 percent of all timber removed from forests in the US. In the South, specifically, 51 percent of the wood removed from forests that supplies industries from paper and packaging to building materials and consumer goods to the fuel and energy, come from family-owned land.
An area of opportunity that both brand owners and land owners at the Summit explored in depth were markets.
Family forest landowners typically harvest to keep their forests healthy, then sell to markets that want sustainably managed wood, which enables them to earn income to replant, restore and keep their forests as forests.
But landowners described challenges they face when it comes to selling, particularly the unpredictability of the income they will receive come harvest time. One land owner noted “the price I get per acre will vary based on the time in which we harvest. Are other landowners selling at that time? Are there multiple mills in the area who need our product? Is there demand further up the supply chain for the mills to process this material? And this is after we have invested decades in a stand of trees. The unpredictability can be difficult to navigate.”
Another forest owner stated “If we begin to lose markets, particularly in the Southeast, and companies see less value in my products, then I can’t afford to provide for my family and keep my forest.”
Brand owners also shared similar concerns for wood fiber, describing how markets in certain regions depend on each other.
“Markets are so interconnected. As consumers went digital, newspaper and magazine sales declined, so less printing took place. This means less business for the suppliers and mills, which also meant less business for the saw mills and the chip mills, who were receiving the byproducts from those trees. This of course is impacting the landowners immensely too.”
Summing it up, one brand representative stated “What will happen to this resource [forests] if there isn’t demand for it? Our business is built on wood fiber, and we will continue to need it in the future.”
Collectively, the attendees discussed opportunities to support existing markets, as well as develop new wood fiber markets, calling for investments from both the public and private sectors.
Green building and the expansion of cross-laminated timber were mentioned, noting the first tall wood buildings going up in Minneapolis, Portland and New York City. New emerging markets for renewable energy were noted, especially in areas of the Western U.S. where removing small diameter trees and underbrush, the materials used for wood pellets, can not only provide for an industry, but also reduce wildfire risk in densely populated forests.
As wood fiber possesses? exceptional physical and chemical properties, attendees discussed opportunities around nanocellulose technologies. Nanocellulose can already be found in adhesives, body armor and water filters, in place of petroleum-based chemicals and plastics and is being used in construction.
A call for further research and development around wood fiber was echoed by many.
Building on these ideas and insights from these discussions, GreenBlue’s Forest Products Working Group and AFF plan to expand the dialogue in the coming weeks with other key partners in the forestry sector to help inform new strategies or the refinement of existing ones to encourage and verify sustainable forest management in the U.S.