Brand owner and family forest owner partnerships for sustainability outcomes

October 31, 2017

“Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.”

  • Aldo Leopold
    Conservation Economics
    The River of the Mother of God


Many family forest owners understand their responsibility for caring for the forests that we rely on every day to fight climate change, provide clean air and water, and protect and preserve wildlife. Many brand owners, who also rely on forests for their own products, understand their sourcing practices are an opportunity to support and incentivize good forest management practices while simultaneously meeting their own organizational sustainability goals. This SPC Advance 2017 panel was an update on the work the Forest Products Working Group (FPWG) is doing in partnership with the American Forest Foundation (AFF) bridging the gap between these brand owners and family forest owners for the first time.

Bringing family forest owners together with brand owners to work together on these shared goals is a huge opportunity for positive conservation outcomes and focus area for the FPWG. In this session Sarah Crow, Senior Director of Sustainability at the American Forest Foundation, and Tom Pollock, Senior Manager at GreenBlue, shared the project developments in an AFF and FPWG partnership to identify risks in forest product supply chains and provide opportunities for brand owners, manufacturers, agencies and conservation groups to collaborate in achieving positive conservation impacts through the engagement of family forest owners.

Sarah began the presentation with some background on the project. In 2014, the Forest Products Working Group (FPWG) launched a project to address the shared challenge of securing more certified fiber for paper and packaging products. One of the FPWG’s initial findings was that the key challenge in meeting ambitious certified fiber goals is that adoption of forest certification is limited among family forest owners. There are numerous reasons, chief among them, that forest certification is costly for family forest owners and tends not to result in consistent benefits.

Sarah continued to explain that, in fact, more than 35% of U.S. forests are owned by family forest owners. This is the largest forest ownership group in the U.S., owning more forest land than state and federal governments.  Family forest owners are also responsible for over 50% of the fiber flowing into supply chains. When GreenBlue convened the FPWG, the initial focus was on finding a way to expand certification to this group.  After comprehensive analysis and discussion, however, the FPWG came to understand that such expansion would be extremely costly and difficult, if not impossible to achieve.

With a better understanding of this challenge, the Forest Products Working Group and American Forest Foundation (AFF) partnership began.  The discussion broadened from a conversation about how to increase certification, to explore opportunities to provide assurance of sustainable forest management for their products originating from family forests.  

Tom explained that as a result of this strategic partnership, the Forest Products Working Group and American Forest Foundation identified an innovative approach that would specifically address the challenge of brand owners unable to secure 100% certified fiber, while simultaneously, focusing resources to address real sustainability challenges on the ground with measurable impact.

Currently using the working title “Forests in Focus,” or FiF, this approach employs an aggregation of publicly available data at the landscape, and not the parcel, scale. Forest certification, for example, provides assurance for individual parcels. This approach would make it possible to evaluate forests operated and owned by, what are today, over 22 million family forest owners in the United States and include them into discussions of responsible forest management with the whole supply chain.

Additionally, a point that both speakers stressed was the most important take-away, is that the FPWG and AFF recognize that for any effort like Forests in Focus to be truly successful it must operate on the guiding principle to “bring together the forest products supply chain and its stakeholders to collaborate on positive conservation impacts.” FiF is, therefore, more than a concept about aggregating sustainability data for forested landscapes in the U.S., it’s about a collaborative, multi-stakeholder effort to bring about positive change and support the family-owned forests we need to support earnestly if we truly believe in having healthy forests for their long list of benefits including recreation, fighting climate change, clean air and water, biodiversity, and so much more.