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Final Thoughts: Sustainable pellets

It all starts in the forest. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) program is probably best known for our forest certification standards, which are based on 14 principles including provisions for forest productivity and health, protection of water resources and biological diversity, managing aesthetics and recreation, protection of ecologically or culturally special sites, compliance with applicable laws and regulations, public involvement in sustainable forestry, and more.


March 24, 2014
By Nadine Block SFI

It all starts in the forest. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) program is probably best known for our forest certification standards, which are based on 14 principles including provisions for forest productivity and health, protection of water resources and biological diversity, managing aesthetics and recreation, protection of ecologically or culturally special sites, compliance with applicable laws and regulations, public involvement in sustainable forestry, and more. We work with everyone who has a stake in the future of our forests – including economic, environmental and social stakeholders – to develop and continually improve our standards (in fact, we’re now in the middle of the open review process for the 2015-2019 Standard).

Recent trends point to promising growth in forest certification worldwide. For example, from 2007 to 2013, the number of hectares of forest certified to the SFI Standard in North America increased 75 per cent from 55.8 million hectares to more than 100 million hectares. We’re also seeing strong growth in certification in many other parts of the world, driven by consumer demand for sustainable products. In an encouraging sign, The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) released a statement last November that promotes the expansion of forest certification across the supply chain. The statement marked a significant step towards the growing trend of recognizing all credible forest certification programs as a proof point for responsible forestry.

Despite growth in certtification, some working forests will continue to remain uncertified. In North America, 60 per cent of private forests are owned by family forest owners, and for many such owners, managing timber is not the primary business activity. SFI’s unique fibre sourcing standard requires program participants who buy raw materials to show that the fibre in their supply-chain comes from legal and responsible sources, whether the forests are certified or not. This involves measures such as utilizing trained loggers, ensuring that best management practices for water quality are implemented and conducting landowner outreach to promote prompt reforestation and practices to protect biodiversity. Because a significant amount of fibre for wood pellets is sourced from uncertified forests, SFI fibre sourcing makes a significant contribution towards providing landowners with the knowledge to practice responsible forestry. 

The United Kingdom and other European Union members are embracing bioenergy as a way to meet their climate change commitments and renewable energy goals. Wood energy – specifically the use of wood pellets – presents a viable renewable energy choice to meet demand on a sustainable and consistent basis. However, it is imperative that appropriate measures are in place to maintain healthy, thriving forests. U.S. and Canadian pellet producers are utilizing certification to the SFI Standard to demonstrate how they are addressing sustainable land management concerns.

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Of note, the SFI Program is the only forest certification standard in North America that requires participants to support and engage in research activities to improve forest health, productivity and sustainable management of forest resources. SFI’s Conservation and Community Partnerships Grant program supports projects that advance our knowledge of sustainable forest management in areas including carbon and bioenergy; forest health; water; capacity building; and biodiversity. One of SFI’s 2013 partnership grants was in support of an October workshop, hosted by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation and the International Energy Agency Bioenergy Task Groups, which examined the international trade in wood pellets between the U.S. and Europe and furthered the understanding of how forest fibre can be responsibly sourced.

Similar to the other products that forests provide, like clean water and wildlife habitat, forests have tremendous potential to contribute towards the world’s clean energy needs. SFI is excited to engage in this important conversation with energy producers, regulators, and conservation organizations to ensure we pursue a path that has economic and environmental value.

Those of us working for the future of sustainable forestry know that the future of our forests is tied to a shared responsibility and starts with our communities and the people who rely upon forests every day – if we work collaboratively to promote our shared goal of healthy, thriving forests for generations to come.

 Nadine Block, SFI  
 Nadine Block, SFI


 


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