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Supporting Carbon Sequestration through Climate-Smart Forestry, Forest Products, and Education

By Nadine Block and Darren Sleep

Nadine Block

Darren Sleep

Climate change is one of our most pressing global challenges, and sustainably managed forests are among our most important tools for addressing it. Forests are essential for reducing the impacts of climate change because they absorb carbon from the atmosphere at impressive rates and are increasingly managed for resilience in the face of climate change’s effects.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), in collaboration with its network of partners and committees, is exerting leadership on climate change. Together, we are working to ensure well-managed forests and responsibly sourced forest products remain at the heart of climate change solutions because of their role in sequestering carbon.

Certification standards support climate-smart forestry

The SFI Forest Management Standard requires a number of practices with direct climate benefits, such as ensuring forests remain vigorous and healthy, requiring harvested areas be promptly regenerated, and requiring programs and practices that reduce the likelihood of wildfire or reduce the proliferation of damaging invasive species.

While climate change is increasing the severity and frequency of wildfires, and a subsequent loss of carbon, current SFI standards provide practical solutions, such as managing harvest residues to decrease fuel loads, which can lower the potential for damaging wildfires.

SFI is also creating a new climatesmart forestry objective (SFI Forest Management Standard Objective 9) in our next standard update to ensure SFI-certified organizations are adapting their management practices to climate change and have opportunities to reduce carbon emissions. This new objective is being developed during SFI’s standard revision process. SFI revises and updates the SFI standards to incorporate the latest scientific information, respond to emerging issues and other initiatives. This open and transparent process includes engaging with the conservation community, Indigenous communities, the forest products industry, brand owners, private forest landowners and public forest managers, government agencies, trade associations, landowner associations, academia and others.

SFI’s standard revision process will wrap up in 2021, with anticipated endorsement by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). The new standards will be available in January 2022.

  • Performance Measure 9.1 requires SFI-certified organizations to identify climate change risks to forests and forest operations, and the development of adaptation objectives and strategies.
  • Performance Measure 9.2 requires SFI-certified organizations to identify opportunities to mitigate climate-related impacts associated with forest operations. Guidance accompanying this objective will assist SFIcertified organizations in identifying options for addressing stored carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Certification is one of the best ways to ensure that a forest is sustainably managed and mitigating climate change because certification is built on rigorous standards backed by third-party verification on the ground,” says Guy Gleysteen, chair of GreenBlue and chair of the SFI Board of Directors. “I’m excited about the positive contribution of SFI’s climatesmart forestry objective to advancing practical solutions to climate change.”

Climate mitigation through SFIcertified mass timber

Growing forests aren’t the only way to sequester carbon. Wood products like mass timber sequester carbon for extended periods-often over many decades. Mass timber is an innovative category of wood products used for building. Different types of mass timber include cross-laminated timber (CLT), nail-laminated timber (NLT or Nail-lam), glue-laminated timber (glulam), and dowel-laminated timber (DLT).

CLT is the fastest growing mass timber system. It is a prefabricated, solid engineered wood panel as strong as traditional building materials like steel and concrete, yet it offers the additional environmental benefits associated with wood. Highly technical and precise, CLT is made by compressing and bonding layers of wood together in alternating directions. In May, Katerra, a leader in producing mass timber, announced that its CLT factory in Spokane Valley, Washington, has certified to the SFI Chain-ofCustody Standard, joining other companies such as SmartLam and Structurelam.

The carbon savings generated by sustainably sourced wood products are twofold: lower emissions during production of the building material, and carbon storage in the building material for the life of the building. That means sustainably managed forests fight climate change while they’re growing and long after they’re harvested. More and more buyers-including governments, businesses, and individuals-are asking for wood products from responsible sources.

SFI-certified products are recognized by many leading green building rating programs around the world and are already found in a number of buildings. The University of British Columbia’s Tallwood House, at 18-stories, is the world’s tallest mass timber building and includes SFI-certified wood. The University of Idaho Arena, scheduled for completion in 2021, will use wood products manufactured in Idaho by SFI-certified companies.

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The University of Idaho Arena, which is scheduled for completion in 2021, features mass timber manufactured in Idaho by SFI-certified companies. An SFI Community Grant is supporting this project to increase public awareness and market adoption of engineered wood products and enhance student training and research.

These companies are donating time, materials, and equipment to the construction of the arena. The arena will showcase these companies’ products and provide a living laboratory for architects, builders, and the public to learn about the environmental and economic benefits of using sustainably sourced fiber in commercial construction. An SFI Community Grant supported this project in partnership with the University of Idaho along with SFI-certified companies and other organizations.

“Sustainably managed forests are playing a critical role in the emerging market for tall wood buildings. I’m encouraged by SFI’s strategic focus on the mass timber market. Green building construction and other innovative ways to use wood like mass timber are enhancing the role of sustainably managed forests in delivering carbon solutions,” says Pat Layton, a professor of forestry at Clemson and the Director of Clemson University’s Wood Utilization + Design Institute. Layton also serves on the SFI Board of Directors.

Educating the next generation on carbon and climate

Adapting to and mitigating climate change will take decades and is an intergenerational challenge. Today’s youth are already showing leadership on climate change as they focus on the future of the planet. That’s why the SFI initiative Project Learning Tree (PLT) is delivering education programming critical to ensuring the next generation understands climate challenges in the context of forestbased solutions.

“Learning and teaching about climate change challenges educators to work with data and engage students’ critical-thinking skills. PLT has developed specific resources about carbon and climate to support educators. Climate science is also being integrated more broadly into many existing PLT resources,” says Laura Six, a forest ecology scientist with Weyerhaeuser, a SFI-certified company. Six is also a member of the SFI Education Operating Committee, which provides governance and leadership to PLT.

While PLT addresses issues of carbon and climate in eight educational resources, the topic is addressed most thoroughly in the Southeastern Forests and Climate Change module for use with high school students. PLT is also examining how best to elevate and frame climate change. Within the next two years, SFI is considering at least two new or updated educational resources on forests and climate, including nationalizing the Southeastern Forests and Climate Change module.

The PLT Forest Literacy Framework, a new resource to be released by the end of the year, will define how PLT conveys the most relevant principles of climate education as part of its core purpose of promoting general knowledge and skills surrounding forest topics. At a high level the framework identifies the essential concepts that youth should know when they complete their K-12 education.

Delivering on the promise of climate-smart forestry

At SFI, we believe that sustainable forests are critical to our collective future and that climate change poses a great threat to this shared future. We also believe that the best way to meet challenges like climate change is through collaboration with our diverse network. We work with the forest sector, brand owners, conservation groups, resource professionals, landowners, educators, local communities, Indigenous Peoples, governments, and universities.

SFI Implementation Committees promote SFI standards to broaden the practice of responsible forestry and achieve on-the-ground progress. They offer a forum to provide information or answer questions about local forestry operations, and they welcome involvement from interested partners. Contact us to learn more.

Investing in Research to Support Climate-Smart Forestry

SFI is the only forest certification standard to require certified entities to support forest research. Since 1995, SFI-certified organizations have directly invested nearly $1.8 billion in forest research to promote healthy, climate-resilient forests. With more than 375 million acres certified to the SFI Forest Management Standard across the US and Canada, SFI has the scale to support landscapelevel research projects.

The SFI Conservation Impact Project focuses on measuring biodiversity conservation, water quality protection, and climate change mitigation on lands influenced by the SFI Forest Management Standard and the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard. Identifying positive conservation outcomes, key learnings, and opportunities for improvement on the SFI land base are a critical component of the SFI standards that help conservationists understand the values associated with sustainable forest management.

Through a competitive RFP process, researchers propose creative approaches to improve understanding of the relationship between sustainable forest management and conservation. By linking proposed projects with SFI-certified organizations, these efforts gain immediate relevancy and long-term influence on forest management practices on key topics like climate change mitigation.

One of these projects is with the University of Maine to improve the climate change benefits of working forests. This project is examining the impact of the SFI Forest Management Standard and the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard in enhancing climate adaptation and carbon-related conservation values. The research team is using empirical soils data from across the Acadian Forest Region to inform SFI objectives and measures related to soil productivity, carbon storage, and conservation. An SFI Conservation Grant is supporting this research in partnership with the University of Maine along with SFI-certified companies and other organizations.

Another project is a collaboration with Manomet, a leading conservation organization based in Plymouth, Massachusetts, along with SFI-certified companies and other organizations, to develop forest management tools to mitigate climate change. This project is developing and testing a scalable approach for assessing forest resilience to climate change, demonstrating the adaptation potential and mitigation value of well-managed forests. The project will provide SFI-certified organizations and others with a simple approach to establishing baseline conditions, assessing overall resilience of forests to a changing climate, and monitoring the effects of a changing climate over time. These steps will enable forest managers to include climate change mitigation in forest planning and management. An SFI Conservation Grant is supporting this research in partnership with Manomet.

Nadine Block is SFI’s Senior Vice President of Government and Network relations Darren Sleep is SFI’s Senior Director, Conservation Science and Strategies


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