Forests in Focus
Forest in Focus (FF) is a dynamic, landscape-level assessment of risks and opportunities for sourcing forest products. Using data visualization and analytics, FF provides brand owners, manufacturers, agencies and conservation groups a platform to collaborate in achieving positive conservation impacts through the engagement of family forest owners. FF compliments other sourcing tools, such as forest certification, to help users verify the wood fiber in their products originates from responsibly managed forests.
- IDENTIFY AND ASSESS RISK sourcing forest products
- MEET VERIFICATION REQUIREMENTS in sustainable sourcing goals
- Find OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPACT through the engagement of family forest owners
- COMMUNICATE COMMITMENT to sustainable forest management
The initiative is being develop through a broad coalition of partners including the SPC’s Forests Products Working Group companies, the American Forest Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and Esri.
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Background: Forest Certification and Family Forest Owners
In 2014, the 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 there has been a limited adoption of forest certification among family forest owners. In the U.S., which has the greatest certified area globally, only 22% of forests are certified. For family owned woodlands, which comprise nearly 40% of forests in the U.S., the rate is approximately 1%. All the while, family woodlands supply over 50% of the fiber flowing into supply chains.
The reason for limited adoption among family forest owners is not because they are managing their land in an irresponsible or unsustainable manner. Rather, it is driven by several factors related to the inconsistency between certification and the nature of family ownerships, including the fact that forest certification is particularly costly for family forest owners and tends not to result in consistent benefits.
With a better understanding of this challenge, The Forest Products Working Group began a partnership with the American Forest Foundation (AFF), a 75 year-old organization dedicated to family landowners in the U.S.. The discussion broadened from a conversation about how to increase certification, to exploring options for attaining visibility into the uncertified supply of family-owned forests. As a result of this partnership and work with a broad range of stakeholders, FPWG and AFF created an innovative approach that would specifically address the challenge of brand owners not being able to secure 100% certified fiber, while simultaneously, addressing real sustainability challenges on the ground and measuring impact. The US Forest Service joined FPWG and AFF as a partner and supporter of the project in 2018 and ESRI will be providing key software development support.
This platform will employ aggregation and analysis of publicly available data to assess sustainability at the landscape level. Forest certification, for example, verifies the use of specific practices at the parcel level, whereas FiF is designed to assess how practices encapsulate forest sustainability across an entire landscape. The FiF approach makes it possible to evaluate and assess risk when sourcing from forests owned by the roughly 22 million family landowners in the U.S. Because the majority of lands are not evaluated at the parcel scale via certification, family woodland owners are often excluded, unfairly, from supply chains that require only certified fiber.
Additionally, and most importantly, the FPWG and AFF recognized that for any effort 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”. Unlike other approaches that simply assess risk, FiF will actively and transparently identify risk and associated patterns to reveal opportunities to drive real, positive impact on the ground.
Along the way, a large, diverse set of stakeholders have been engaged including brand owners, manufacturers, environmental NGOs, state and federal agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, and many others. FiF is, therefore, more than a website that provides sustainability data for woodbaskets in the U.S. FiF is about being part of a larger, collaborative, multi-stakeholder effort to effect positive change and support the family-owned forests we rely on every day to combat climate change, clean our air and water, and provide a home for wildlife.
How does it Work: Sourcing Responsibly from America’s Family Forests
Forests in Focus will utilize publicly available and credible data to provide an accessible and easy-to-understand visualization of forest sustainability issues in all major sourcing regions in the U.S.. It will allow a brand owner, via the FiF platform, to find the woodbaskets they are sourcing from and, based on FiF-provided sustainability data, assess the level of forest sustainability risk for their products. Risk is evaluated at the landscape level across multiple criteria by answering three questions for the FiF user: 1) is risk present in this woodbasket; 2) is this risk associated with forest products industry activity; and 3) are there are any credible practices in place that mitigate that risk?
Forests in Focus will allow brand owners and forest product manufacturers to better understand whether their wood fiber-based supply chain is impacting water quality, leading to forest loss, threatening endangered species habitat, or otherwise contributing to the degradation of the forest values important to its stakeholders and public at large. Over time, Forests in Focus will enable brand owners and manufacturers to minimize the risk of harm, enhance the environmental benefits provided by the supply chain, and demonstrate the progress they have made in a credible, data-driven manner.
In the tool, brand owners and manufacturers will have the ability to log onto their unique Forests in Focus account, identify the woodbaskets they are sourcing from, and view a real-time, data-visualization that explains the nature of supply chain risk within that specific woodbasket or across the entire fiber supply chain. Furthermore, FiF will allow the brand owner to understand whether that risk is attributable to forestry practices or other causes. What is truly unique about FiF is that where risk is identified in a woodbasket, FiF will be able to evaluate opportunities for change as part of an active community to drive forest sustainability.
The specific sustainability performance indicators Forests in Focus proposes to evaluate are:
- Land use change/deforestation
- Water quality
- Forest Carbon
- High Conservation Value Forests
- Forest health
- Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Benefits of the Forests in Focus Approach
More complete risk assessment for product sourcing
FiF will directly address the need for more information to evaluate and understand risk in supply chains. Publicly available, credible data sets will enable FiF to comprehensively and convincingly paint a picture of what is occurring in forested landscapes across the country, and evaluate the extent to which those developments present either risks or opportunities to brand owners and manufacturers. Until now, no one has yet taken the steps to identify that data, aggregate it in one platform, convene stakeholders to agree on how best to evaluate it, and build a platform to host and communicate the results.
Bringing the supply chain together
FiF will catalyze critical conversations between brands, suppliers, ENGOs, government and others, enabling them to make stronger and more insightful decisions about their supply chains. The FiF approach recognizes that responding to sustainability opportunities requires partnership, an ongoing exchange of ideas, and innovation. FiF provides an essential meeting place that does not currently exist in the forest sustainability space. Virtually and in-person, FiF will enable partners to connect around shared interests, identify opportunities to work together and leverage resources.
Building trust and communicating impact
FiF’s primary goal is to recognize and improve forest sustainability in the U.S., particularly among family forest owners. Signaling to the marketplace that FiF is an industry-wide, multi-stakeholder effort is an important step in optimizing on-the-ground impact. Members of FiF will be recognized for their role in helping achieve this goal and have access to resources and tools to communicate to their stakeholder groups their key contributions and the overall impact of FiF. They will also have opportunities to connect with family forest owners impacted by the FiF tool. In addition to having data points to communicate impact, FiF members will also have stories they can share to further illustrate their on-the-ground impact, putting a “face” on their efforts to support forest sustainability. Credible, data-driven analyses, company-specific recognition, compelling conservation stories and innovative collaborations will all combine to enable companies to effectively build trust and communicate their positive impacts.
Real conservation impact
FiF reflects the urgent need for greater visibility into family woodlands and to engage the families that own them. FiF will achieve conservation impact by identifying risk and revealing opportunities for change that are available for support by individual forest product companies and brands. This will make it easy for brand owners and manufacturers to identify credible conservation partners doing work of direct relevance to their supply chain.
Working with the family forest owner community
This distinctive new approach will enable ENGOs, brands, forest product companies and government to unite and take advantage of the biggest opportunity facing forest sustainability in the U.S. today: engaging family landowners. Forests in Focus will catalyze support for on-the-ground engagement of forest landowners around critical issues. Local environmental and conservation organizations will work through Forests in Focus to identify important local initiatives. Forests in Focus members will see projects in their woodbaskets that respond to the challenges they are most concerned with and be able to easily connect with and support those efforts.
Complementing existing forest certification systems
Because Forests in Focus is specifically designed to complement existing certification and sustainability programming, corporate partners will be able to leverage the power of Forests in Focus to support, streamline and inform the actions required under other systems. In some cases, use of Forests in Focus may help fulfill the requirements of those systems. In others, it will help companies make better decisions about under what circumstances to demand certification or pursue a different solution.
Measuring sustainability outcomes
This tool is unique in its approach in that it will measure the shared accomplishments of its programs and members, reporting the number of acres improved, the number of family forest owners engaged, and other meaningful metrics.
Tom PollockSenior Manager
Anne ElseaCommunications Manager
Sarah CrowSenior Director of Certification, American Forest Foundation
Nathan TruittVice President, Strategic Partnerships, American Forest Foundation