The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) released five goals for the forest products industry to be more environmentally sustainable, including work to increase the amount of fiber procured from certified forest lands and to promote polices worldwide that reduce illegal logging.

AF&PA promoted its Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 document as a "continuing commitment to sustainability" that the association concluded was not being recognized by the public as much as it should. Along with its intent to buy more fiber from certified forest lands, the association also set these goals for 2020:

  • Increase the paper recovery for recycling rate to more than 70%.

  • Boost by at least 10% the industry's energy efficiency in terms of purchased energy use.

  • Reduce "the intensity" of industry greenhouse gas emissions by at least 15%.

  • Improve the industry's safety incidence rate by 25%.

"Sustainability has become a bit of a buzzword. For us, it's the whole story," says Jim Hannan, AF&PA chairman as well as president and CEO of Georgia-Pacific. "We rely on natural resources, renewable resources, and recycling as our business model. It doesn't disconnect from our vision--it's embedded in our vision. We just haven't told our story."
"Sustainable forestry is the key to our existence," AF&PA president and CEO Donna Harman adds. She says the new document shows how the industry is "raising the bar" in its commitment to the subject.

Unlike the other commitments, AF&PA's goal of increasing the amount of fiber procured from certified forest lands doesn't give a numerical target. It does note that all AF&PA members that own forest land must conform "to a credible sustainable forest management program," while members that source wood fiber from the forest must comply with "sustainable procurement principles."

But AF&PA's call for members to participate in forest certification programs refuses to play favorites among the several wood-certification schemes available worldwide. That list includes the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI); the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), which boasts a global scope; and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), another global program that is the only certification scheme recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for points in its LEED green-building program.

Many AF&PA members are known to prefer SFI, and the association's list of certification programs not only cites SFI first but also notes--as part of its list of members' past accomplishments--that more than 7,000 loggers have completed SFI-supported training on forestry best management practices."

Late last year, a subset of USGBC members failed to give enough votes to a proposal to set benchmarks by which wood certified by other schemes besides FSC would qualify for LEED points. A letter from 14 environmental groups that FSC distributed during the voting argued that allowing SFI's and related groups' standards to qualify for LEED points would amount to sanctioning "status quo forestry." SFI also urged voters to reject the idea, but for much different reasons. (See related story)

Asked whether tacitly endorsing a number of certification schemes would open it up to criticism, Hannan replied: "I understand people may have different opinions about that. We think it doesn't make sense to pick one program only. For us, we think that's the right approach."

AF&PA said it plans to report the industry's progress through an annual report on paper recovery and a biennial report on sustainability.

Craig Webb is Editor of ProSales. This article originally appeared on ProSales Online.