Deforestation or reforestation

Extinction of species, loss of biodiversity and carbon sink, soil erosion… These are all unfortunate consequences of deforestation. To keep our planet viable, it is essential that we take care of our forests – and this is when reforestation comes into play.

6.5.2021

Deforestation and reforestation are both buzzwords of today for a good reason, but what do they really mean? As to the wellbeing of our planet, including its lungs, one is part of the problem, and the other part of the solution.

Deforestation – what, where and why on Earth?

National Geographic refers to deforestation as an intentional clearing of forest land. For thousands of years, forests have been cut down to make space for manufacturing, agriculture and urbanisation. Today, deforestation happens mostly in tropical rainforest areas. It is literally a burning problem, especially in South America, as well as Africa and Southeast Asia. Most of us find the current climate and biodiversity threatening impacts of deforestation scary – and so they should be. But there are also a lot of misunderstandings out there about the subject.

On a global scale, about 80% of deforestation is due to agriculture, but for some reason the forest industry often gets the blame as “the exploiter”. But hold on a minute, a manufacturing industry destroying its own resources? It actually does not make any sense if you stop and think about it. Reforestation on the other hand does.

Responsible forest use does not cause climate change – but fights it

There is a genuine need to increase knowledge and create a positive attitude towards responsible forest management. When conducted correctly, it helps us preserve our planet’s viability for the future generations.

Sustainable forest management plays a key role in the process of reforestation. Growing trees absorb more CO2 than mature ones, so how we manage to secure the healthy growth of forests is essential. If after regeneration felling, each felled tree is always replaced with three to four new seedlings, you can definitely call it reforestation.

When talking about biodiversity and climate change mitigation, forest use passes the test by a good margin in the Nordics. The rest of the world has a lot to learn from this. For example, in Finland there has been forest legislation in place already since 1886, and in Sweden valuable forests are protected by law.

In Finland, each harvested fully grown tree is always replaced with three to four new seedlings.

Most of the forest industry giants, including Metsä Group, make sure the origin of wood is 100% traceable to sustainably managed forests. In addition, their operations are certified by globally acknowledged forest management systems (i.e. PEFC™ and FSC®). Certifications help in enhancing the sustainability performance of forestry to meet the ever-tightening standards. It has also been shown that certification leads to systemising improvements in biodiversity, like leaving decaying wood and retention trees. These improvements, in turn, benefit many different animals.

What exactly is responsible forest use?

So if we agree that bulldozing forests senselessly for food or habitation is less than desirable, what is the right way to use forests?

First of all, it is making sure that forests grow more than they are used. Secondly, it is respect for the wood – valuable raw material should be used wisely so that nothing goes to waste. To put it more concretely, logs are used for building, and wood from forest thinning, branches and side streams from sawmills is supplied to the pulp industry, and from there to the board industry. Thirdly, responsible forest use is about safeguarding biodiversity and respecting the social aspects of forests – as part of the forests are located in territories, where forests are both a livelihood and cultural foundation for indigenous people.

Multinational consumer goods companies that package a lot play a central role when it comes to sustainability. Corporations like Unilever already see the future of packaging as fibre-based. As a company, they make sure to purchase paper and board packaging materials from suppliers that use wood from sustainably managed forests. Sourcing packaging in the most sustainable and transparent way possible is part of their commitment to zero net deforestation. And for that, Unilever, we give you kudos.

What can I do as a consumer?

Frequently pondering whether there is something you can do to spare our planet’s precious lungs? Here are three key takeaways to consider.

  1. Minimise food waste. Wastage of food directly contributes to increased deforestation in tropical forest areas. And as you might guess, developed countries are responsible for most of the food waste created.
  2. Choose goods packed in renewable packaging. And look for certifications in the packaging, so that you know that the material used is renewable, traceable and from responsibly used forests.
  3. Vote with your wallet and favour brands that take sustainability issues seriously. Prefer those that communicate clearly what actions are planned or have taken place to help in preventing, for example, deforestation.

Ending deforestation requires commitment and collaboration

Marika Lindström, VP, Packaging and Beauty & Personal Care
Unilever

Fortunately, there are already a lot of big companies dedicated to ending deforestation. Unilever is one of them, with an ambitious goal of having a deforestation-free supply chain for wood-based packaging by 2023. According to Marika Lindström, Procurement VP, Packaging and Beauty & Personal Care at Unilever, a sustainable future requires a shared mindset and massive global cooperation.

Unilever is on a mission to have a deforestation-free supply chain. What actions are taken to achieve this?

To ensure deforestation free paper and board supply chain by 2023 we do a few things: we expect either FSC or PEFC certification from our suppliers. In addition to that, we conduct a quarterly chain of custody survey to understand the level of transparency we have. We also make strategic shifts in our supply base based on the certification and CoC status. Longer term we are assessing additional tools to help us with further transparency.

How can different players collaborate more to end deforestation?

Global collaboration with supply partners and other consumer goods companies is critical to set and align on future expectations and standards. Being deforestation-free should apply across the whole supply chain, upstream and downstream, so it is prominent that all our partners share the same ambition.

What customer driven sustainability trends do you see on the horizon?

Both retailers and consumers are expecting less packaging and more non-plastic solutions. We are working on less, better and no plastic initiatives while taking the overall carbon footprint of different solutions into account. Obviously, new solutions need to be affordable and scalable. Wood-based packaging has a lot of potential in this equation

On a personal note, do you have sustainable lifestyle choices to share?

I avoid single-use plastics, and always carry my refillable water bottle and canvas shopping bag when running errands. In addition, I also favor brands that use recyclable or recycled packaging like Love, Beauty and Planet.

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