Twenty-eight thousand square miles of forest the approximate size of Ireland were converted to other land uses each year between 2000 and 2005 (source: United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization). Fifty-four countries have lost 90% or more of their forest cover (source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment).
Encouragingly, forest area in Europe, North America and China has been growing in the past decade due to reforestation initiatives. However, rapid forest loss continues in the tropical regions of South America, Africa and Asia, where socio-economic and political problems run counter to forest conservation and sustainable management.
Statistics like these bring home the enormous sustainable development challenges facing the world today, challenges that business cannot address alone. There are many resources out there to help companies that use forest products in their processes or as commercial outputs, such as construction materials and paper, procure them sustainably. But their sheer numbers are so confusing for corporate buyers, much less the general public who uses the end product, that their uptake is slow.
"Finding credible purchasing information around the complexity of the issues - including forestry, climate change, energy and manufacturing - has always been a maze," says David J. Refkin, director of sustainable development at Time Inc.
What corporate buyers need is a "Guide to the Guides" to help them understand and find the best advice on how to purchase products originating from the world's forests. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development and World Resources Institute have come together to provide just that: the Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-based Products: Guide and Resource Kit.
A representative number of these resources have been referenced in this easy-to-use toolbox, including a full report detailing the top 10 questions that corporate managers should ask when purchasing forest-based products and references to resources for help, a shorter overview report, and a website with a spreadsheet tool.
It helps sustainability managers define and implement purchasing policies for the entire range of forest-based products, from wood products like construction materials and furniture to paper products like packaging, tissue paper and countless other products.
It details topics such as:
• Forest certification
• Environmental friendliness
• Social impacts
• Recycled-content percentages.
It also directs managers to advice on tracing their supply chains and implementing monitoring processes, among other issues.
Cassie Phillips, vice president of sustainable forests and products at Weyerhaeuser Company, thinks the environmental benefits match the business payoffs. "Finally having a more complete picture of the landscape will make it easier for buyers to design purchasing policies that fight illegal logging, promote sustainable forest management and protect the environment."
The World Wild Fund For Nature - International (WWF), for example, focuses on leveraging the global marketplace to help save the world's valuable and threatened forests by combating illegal logging and promoting responsible trade between producers and purchasers. It also produced a popular "paper scorecard".
Other organizations have other useful tools, all of which are outlined in the Guide.