Sustainability Planning with the Threat of Climate Crisis

BY: Andrea Feunekes, CEO

The United Nations scientific panel on climate change issued a strong warning this week. We will begin to feel the very real and possibly irreversible effects of climate change within 20 years if we do not significantly change the way we live, work and manage the earth’s resources.

The International Panel on Climate Change predicts that by 2040 we could be living in a world of more extensive food shortages, a mass die-off of coral reefs and more frequent and intense wildfires.

For the forestry sector this adds a new layer to long-term planning because the plans developed today will come to fruition just as the irreversible effects of climate change predicted by the scientific panel begin to be felt by people and communities.

This is on my mind as I prepare to attend the 2018 Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Annual Conference in Colorado next week. SFI is a North American forest certification program that requires members to maintain management standards that enable regeneration and sustainability of forest lands through the protection of biodiversity, species at risk, wildlife habitat and water quality.

We have long understood that forests are carbon sinks, helping to naturally offset and reduce carbon emissions but in recent years, as climate events have begun to extract a toll on communities both large and small, the sustainable management of our forests and tree cover has taken on a greater urgency and importance.

Forests can improve air quality, cool temperatures through the canopy cover and slow the effects of floods when mature tree stands are left undisturbed near water courses. They also improve our mood, a fact those of us who earn our living walking and observing the forests know all too well. That fact has brought together scientists, community organizers and urban planners to undertake greening initiatives, planting trees in low-income neighbourhoods to benefit mental health, particularly in children.

This is an issue close to my heart. Improving the sustainability of our forests was and continues to be the raison d’etre of Remsoft, and as those of us in the sustainable resources sector know, smart forestry practices aren’t just good for a company’s bottom line – it can create ripples that benefit the wider community.

When we first started 20 years ago that language was reserved for the corporate social responsibility office, but not anymore. Increasingly institutional investors and other asset managers are beginning to demand public corporations serve both the bottom line and community need.

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, head of the world’s largest asset manager, wrote in his December 2017 open letter to CEOs that “to prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers and the communities in which they operate.”

Reversing the effects of climate change will take a whole-of-society approach and forestry sector companies, both large and small, have a key role to play. Solving this global problem requires greater industry collaboration and investments in new, innovative approaches to sustainability and resource management.

Analytics and long-term planning can help corporations monitor and report on sustainability efforts, which would build trust in the corporate sector at a time when we need it more than ever. As Fink wrote; “We also see many governments failing to prepare for the future, on issues ranging from retirement and infrastructure to automation and worker retraining. As a result, society increasingly is turning to the private sector and asking that companies respond to broader societal challenges. Indeed, the public expectations of your company have never been greater.”

Sustainable forestry management can and should sit at the intersection of some of our most intractable challenges – climate change, poverty, urban and rural development, economic growth, community resiliency.

Increasingly, this is what shareholders and the public expect from the private sector and I suspect it will be a major topic of discussion in Colorado.

As it should. Our industry has a role to play in helping to develop solutions to make life better in the communities where we operate.

Let’s get to work.