Home improvement retailers can help save our forests

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Cover photo credit: JLS photography, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The largest intact forest in the world, the boreal forest, is under siege. The boreal forest is a wild, seemingly limitless forest that surrounds the northern hemisphere. In Canada, the boreal forest, covered with spruce, fir and pine, covers more than a billion acres and is home to herds of caribou, grizzly bears and billions of endangered birds. It provides drinking water to millions of people and absorbs enough carbon dioxide to offset the emissions of 24 million passenger vehicles. It’s one of our best natural climate solutions.

Canada’s boreal forest has provided the world with high quality lumber, pulp and other forest products for decades. In fact, one million acres of boreal forest are cut every year, the equivalent of one and a half football fields every minute. But now that there is global consensus on the urgent importance of protecting primary forests for our climate and biodiversity, companies that source wood products from the boreal forest have an opportunity to protect them.

Logging in the boreal forest. Photo credit: Jourdain, NRDC

Unfortunately, boreal forest degradation releases an average of 26 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. It is said that planting new trees can reverse the damage caused by logging. Indeed, when forests are cut down and replanted for more than 10 years, they often emit more carbon than they capture. Also, some species, such as woodland caribou, do not inhabit disturbed boreal forest areas, even after newly planted trees have emerged. Currently, disturbances in the boreal forest have endangered more than half of the iconic woodland caribou herds, which are a cornerstone of the culture and history of many Indigenous tribes.

As shattering as the degradation of the boreal forest is, there is hope – innovations in the market for paper and wood products have the potential to reduce logging altogether. Alternative materials and sources are increasingly available and can be used to make items typically made from trees, such as paper goods made from recycled paper, bamboo and hemp, and furniture made from reclaimed and refurbished wood.

However, until we put in place better systems for recycling wood products, we will continue to rely on freshly harvested wood. To ensure the health of boreal forest ecosystems, species and communities, it is imperative that wood sold at home improvement retailers, such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menards and others, has been harvested responsibly.

Certifications, granted by a third-party organization, are the only reliable method to verify that wood products are produced responsibly. However, some certification schemes such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) are too lenient and do not provide adequate protection for forest ecosystems. According to conservationists from organizations like the Rainforest Action Network, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club, wood products certified by SFI should be avoided. Another common certification system, the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), should also be avoided as it is simply an umbrella organization that accepts SFI standards.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the most trusted third-party certification program. Environmental organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund and the National Wildlife Federation, have endorsed FSC. Wood products bearing the FSC logo are harvested according to the 10 guiding principles of certification, which include the conservation of the forest ecosystem, the protection of rare and endangered species, their habitats and overall biological diversity, and the maintenance of the well- be local communities. The principles also require that companies can only develop indigenous territory with the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous and forest-dependent communities – a stipulation that ensures that those most likely to be directly affected by the logging activity are involved in making decisions about what happens to their land.

Caribou. Photo Credit: Bering Land Bridge National Reserve, CC BY 2.0

The Home Depot is the world’s largest home improvement retailer with over 2,300 stores in North America. And while Home Depot doesn’t publicly disclose the percentage of its FSC-certified lumber, it claims to “sell more FSC-certified lumber than any retailer in America.” However, until Home Depot better tracks and discloses its wood supply, its impact on our forests remains uncertain. Lowe’s, on the other hand, tracks and discloses much of its wood supply data through a third-party system: CDP Forests. It’s time for Home Depot to follow suit. The Home Depot has the potential to lead the industry in protecting our climate, endangered species and the communities that depend on our forests.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart, CC BY 2.0

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