At Georgia‐Pacific, we rely on wood and wood fiber to make our paper and building products. Although we don’t own the forestlands we draw from, we want to ensure that we are responsibly sourcing wood and fiber for our operations and that none of the wood we use comes from endangered forests. Instead, we want to protect endangered forests and other special areas in the United States. Here's how we're doing it.
A Unique Collaboration
Before we could protect endangered forests, we needed to identify them. We worked with environmental organizations, including Dogwood Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council and Rainforest Action Network, to understand the characteristics they believe are important in identifying endangered forests and special areas. High biodiversity, rare forest types and concentrations of rare and endangered species were some of the key factors in determining areas for protection.
Then, with help from an expert in ecology and geographic information system (GIS) mapping at the University of Georgia, we developed a science-based method to identify and map endangered forests and special areas, based on the criteria our partners helped us select.
“I think that Georgia‐Pacific is in a leadership role in trying to build this information set,” said Elizabeth Kramer, Ph.D., director of the National Resources Spatial Analysis Lab at the University of Georgia. “I think it's unique for a company that doesn't own its land to be working in this capacity.”
Mapping for Protection: A Continuing Effort
Since 2012, GP has mapped all forested acres where we buy wood in the South. Through this process, we have identified more than 6 million acres of endangered forests and special areas in more than a dozen Southern states. Once mapped, GP doesn’t buy wood from these areas except in unique situations when active forest management is needed to improve habitat for endangered, rare or vulnerable species.
And we're not done yet. We're continuing to map endangered forests and special areas in the Pacific Northwest and the Allegheny Region.
A Protective Eye on Hardwoods
Another aspect of our sustainability efforts is forest diversity. Natural hardwood forests are vulnerable to being converted to faster-growing pine forests. That's not good for diversity and it's not good for GP. The fiber from natural hardwood forests is an important component of many paper and tissue products that GP makes. We want to support the growth and maintenance of hardwoods.
To that end, GP is mapping natural hardwood forests in our key wood fiber supply regions. Natural hardwoods are found in lowland areas along rivers, streams and swamps and also on mountain ridges and other areas. Using U.S. Geological Survey data, satellite imagery and our own local knowledge, we're identifying these areas in more than a dozen Southern states.
To date more than 26 million acres of lowland hardwoods have been identified and are being monitored. Millions more acres of upland hardwoods will be added to the program in the near future. If any of these hardwood acres have been converted to pine plantations since 2008, we won't buy that pine fiber when it becomes available.
Sharing What We Learn
An important aspect of our effort to protect endangered forests involves sharing what we learn with landowners, loggers and other key stakeholders. GP trained more than 150 foresters to identify and locate endangered forests and special areas in their regions. To date, these foresters have met with more than 600 landowners and fiber suppliers to make them aware of GP’s commitments regarding fiber sourcing in these areas.
In addition, our employees who process incoming loads of logs also receive training and are critical to ensuring that fiber is coming from appropriate sources.
GP's commitment to forest protection and maintaining biodiversity and is upheld by a continuing dialogue with foresters to ensure wood is not sourced from areas identified for protection.
An Award‐Winning Venture
GP was the first company in the forest products industry to use a broad-scale analysis to identify and map endangered forests and special areas in the United States. In 2016, the American Forest & Paper Association recognized our efforts with an Innovation in Sustainability Award.
“We believe that it's right to say we don't want to source from endangered forests, that we believe in forest diversity, and that these are ways in which we can help with that,” explains Deborah Baker, GP's vice president of sustainable forestry. “Our mapping and monitoring show our commitment to responding to environmental concerns as well as to the concerns of our customers and consumers.”