Deforestation is a huge and complex issue. In a note to US school children in recognition of Arbor Day in 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as helpless.”

To put it into perspective, I can’t help but think of several often used and perhaps misconstrued idioms.  “We can’t see the forest for the trees.”  “You are barking up the wrong tree.”  Better yet, “Let me cut to the chase,” as we ponder:

  • How does deforestation impact you personally?
  • Are investments in your retirement fund financing deforestation?
  • How can we educate ourselves on the risks and opportunities related to deforestation?
  • Do you or your organization purchase goods or services that might increase levels of deforestation?
  • Are you measuring the potential risks of deforestation within your supply chain?
  • Does your organization have a plan for mitigating deforestation risks within your supply chain?
  • What positive steps can be taken to protect remaining forests and increase the benefits they deliver?

The Value of Our Forests

Forests are economic juggernauts generating valuable commodities like the paper and lumber we rely on daily.  Trees are cleared to build our communities. They feed us and provide fuel for billions globally. Forests are the source of many break-through ingredients used in medical advancements.

Forests provide all sorts of invaluable environmental services ranging from water filtration and temperature control to clean air and tourism. They are home to over half of the biodiversity and creatures on earth.   If we made a concerted effort to accurately account for the value of these environmental services, it would easily exceed trillions of dollars annually.

The Loss of Our Forests

World Resources Institute (WRI) estimates that, 30% of global forest cover has been cleared, another 20% has been degraded.  Most of the rest has been fragmented, leaving only about 15% intact.

Stumps of Fallen Trees

Billions of Trees Have Fallen, Is Anyone Listening?

The UN Climate Summit Report states the conversion of forests for the production of commodities such as soy, palm oil, beef and paper accounts for roughly half of global deforestation. Infrastructure, urban expansion, energy, mining and fuel wood collection also contribute in varying degrees.

Justin Worland reports in an article in Time magazine that “People cut down 15 billion trees each year and the global tree count has fallen by 46% since the beginning of human civilization.”  Deforestation and forest degradation account for anywhere between 10% – 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, deforestation impacts climate change in various ways. The changes include: 1. directly reflecting heat by removing vegetation cover, 2. releasing greenhouses gases through clearing, 3. preventing forests from sequestering more carbon dioxide by cutting them, and 4. the generation of CO2 resulting from the use of bio-fuels.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) are credible and growing responses.  But, I would argue, not nearly enough.  Fortunately, innovative new commitments and guidelines should spur increased measurement and commitment helping to stem the tide of deforestation.

Two Redwood Trees

Redwood Trees Providing Canopy

The respiration of our remaining boreal and rain forests are the lungs that inhale CO2 and breathe out oxygen for most of the creatures on the earth. Chuck Burr, founder of www.restorationseeds.com and the Southern Oregon Seed Growers Association estimates that, “when you walk from a modern immature woods into the old growth redwoods, the temperature drops 10 degrees F in the summer, the humidity increases 10 percent and the oxygen increase a few percent.  The bottom line is that the climate benefits of a plantation of 30’ (9m) trees is insignificant compared to a forest of 200’ (61m) old growth trees.”
Plain and simple, forests are invaluable and are in crisis.

It’s Time to Take Action – Saving Our Forests

In 2010 the Board of Directors of the Consumer Goods Forum approved a resolution to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020.  The aim is to achieve this through the responsible sourcing of key commodities (soy, palm oil, paper/pulp and beef) so sourcing these commodities will not deplete tropical rainforests.

Dozens of governments, scores of international corporations and more than 50 Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) signed the New York Declaration on Forests in 2014.  The goal of this non-binding agreement is to reduce forest loss by halve, end it by 2030 and restore forest lands by an area larger than India. Meeting these goals would cut between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tons of carbon annually.

In 2016, institutional investors with $22 trillion in assets requested that companies report data about forest risks through the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).  According to the report, Revenue at Risk: Why Addressing Deforestation Is Critical to Business Success, the total annual turnover at risk for publicly listed companies is estimated to be up to $906 billion.

The United Nations has created a mechanism that enables organizations to participate in efforts that can combine carbon reduction and neutrality efforts with programs that incentivize people and communities to engage in activities that preserve and expand forest canopies.  Better known as REDDReducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries  this methodology was launched in 2008.

TreeZero & 100% tree free, carbon neutral copy paper

At TreeZero, our copy paper is 100% tree free and carbon neutral.  TreeZero recently partnered with the environmental group Wildlife Works to participate in their REDD projects in Africa.  The Wildlife Works projects have been successfully third-party validated and verified against the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) methodology, and the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standard (CCB) at the GOLD level.  Two-thirds of the funds dedicated to TreeZero’s carbon neutrality efforts go to local communities in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to provide incentives to stop deforestation.

TreeZero is a proud to partner of Wildlife Works and we hope that our customers and consumers find our commitment to the environment of value to their businesses and their sustainability strategies.

Conclusion

If we don’t measure forest related impacts and risks to our organizations and nature – how can we expect to manage and minimize these risks? If we don’t manage them, they are likely to end-up managing us. “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem.  Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.”  Theodore Roosevelt, October 1907.

Jeff Foote

Jeff Foote is Executive Vice President, Sustainability at TreeZero. He’s also an investor. He has helped hundreds of organizations, both large and small, successfully incorporate sustainability strategies into core business functions. Jeff has traveled to all seven continents working to protect and preserve the environment. Jeff’s mission is to help organizations and individuals use fewer resources to sell more, more profitably.