Man has been using trees for fuel since the dawn of time, and at DS Smith we know how vital trees are - both as part of our packaging supply chain, and as one of the key components in the natural environment with the ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere. By Mark Greenwood, Group Health, Safety and Environment Director at DS Smith
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However, let's not pretend that trees aren't harvested to produce packaging - of course they are and the recycled paper industry needs to address this head on. Whilst there has been significant improvement in recent years to improve the sustainability credentials of the packaging industry, there is clearly still more that can be done. What's important now is to be explicit about where our trees come from and how we are managing the environmental impact. It's time for the industry to be frank about this.
Progress is being made
Businesses of all sectors and sizes are now becoming increasingly aware of their carbon footprint and as part of this have started to interrogate their entire supply chain to understand the potential impact on the world's forests. We can all remember the excitement and significance of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) announcement in 2010 that its 400-plus members had committed to working together to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020. And progress is being made. At DS Smith, new fibre and virgin papers derive from sustainably managed forests, where the number of trees planted at least matches the impact of harvesting. In fact, in Europe, the area of forest has grown by 17 million hectares in the last 20 years and 33% more trees grow every year than are harvested. Therefore technically in Europe, we are already achieving zero net deforestation.
In addition, if we look further afield research from the United States suggests that in Western countries, peak deforestation has been reached and forest cover is increasing. In France, for example, forest cover reached a low in the early nineteenth century but has since increased to levels last seen in the medieval period; to take another example, in the US state of Connecticut forests expanded from 29% of the state in 1860 to 60% in 2002.
Together we help achieve zero net deforestation, globally
The brands and retailers we work with are being challenged by their consumers, and are in turn asking us questions about the traceability and transparency of our operations.
We have an opportunity to demonstrate our sustainability achievements to date and share with others the great work that we're doing to ensure minimal impact on the environment. In the future we would like to see a new narrative developed of managed woodland, which is, after all, the original renewable energy.
And it goes without saying, we aren't the only people concerned about this issue. For example, in 2016, the Norwegian parliament pledged the government's public procurement policy will become deforestation-free. It's refreshing to see that this is a conversation that governments are having with their voters, and organisations are having with their customers.
Securing the future of forests
True sustainability comes from living within our means; using resources correctly and robustly according to our needs and recognised scientific thresholds, and not exceeding the capacity of these resources to refresh. It's about innovating our way out of problems.
We are all acutely aware of the need to protect and manage our natural resources. Trees are one of the most valuable renewable energy sources and in addition are a major carbon sink, sequestering carbon emissions from the air at the rate of approximately half a kilo of carbon every year per tree. Yet, we must remember it is okay to cut down trees, as long as we're taking responsible action to ensure the future of the forests they come from.
As an industry, we need to talk candidly about this challenge and proactively help manage Europe's woodlands for environmental benefit. Healthy trees and woodlands are in everyone's business. A target of zero net deforestation for every business is bold but timely.
To find out more about how DS Smith is helping to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020, download our sustainability report here: http://bit.ly/2dFn8AP.