International Day of Forests: A lesson on the value of forests

The International Day of Forests was created in 2012 by the United Nations General Assembly to raise awareness about the importance of forests. This year the UN has titled the day 'Learn to Love Forests' where the education of all ages, ethnicities, and genders is deemed critically important to the sustainable management of forests. As the world continues to prioritize climate change mitigation strategies and shifts from a fossil-fuel based economy to a renewable one, Attis strongly believes it is vital for everyone to learn about the role forests will have in that transition.

Forests are often referred to as the 'lungs of the planet' as they suck in and sequester carbon and release oxygen, they also purify our water and provide raw materials for thousands of products used around the world. Forests offer shelter, food, jobs, and energy to millions of people. In some parts of the world forests are protected, actively managed, and used to build sustainable economies and in others, they are underutilized or taken for granted and destroyed.

As participants in the wood product industry, it is crucial for Attis to be an advocate for the responsible utilization of forest resources, especially as they are increasingly embraced as a renewable energy source. We must learn from the best practices and call out destructive behavior as this sector maturates. We must proceed with vigilance as the industry can significantly impact many aspects of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals including ending poverty, inclusive growth, responding to climate change, and the sustainable management of natural resources. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) State of the Forest report states, 'modernizing the traditional wood energy sector has the power to improve livelihoods, create sustainable value chains and unlock resources for investments in sustainable forest management.'

In recognition of International Day of Forests and the Learn to Love campaign, Attis is dishing out some lessons on the world's forests and the industries surrounding them so that global citizens of all ages can grow into the forestry and conservation leaders of tomorrow's green economy.

Lesson #1: Forestry products are the most abundant, renewable, and realistic replacement for fossil fuels

On Earth, we have a lot of forests—old, young, tropical, arctic, naturally occurring, planted, and always sequestering carbon. Forests cover 1/3 of Earth's land mass and makeup 70-90% of the total terrestrial biomass. As we look to replace energy and materials made from fossil fuels it makes the most sense to turn to the most abundant renewable natural resource we have available: trees.

Carbon is carbon no matter where it comes from—trees or oil, above ground or below. With the right technologies, we can make the same products from renewable biomass sources as we do from polluting fossil fuels. The benefit comes in the ability to use up carbon that is already in the atmospheric system as opposed to pulling up buried carbon and increasing the overall carbon stock.

In addition to being abundant and renewable, trees are also much more evenly distributed throughout the globe than fossil fuel reserves and other bioenergy crops. The ample supply of trees allows countries throughout the world to become increasingly less reliant on fossil fuel rich nations which will lead to greater energy independence and a safer global community.Processing trees into fuels and advanced materials are currently the easiest deployable and cost-effective solution to combating climate change on a global scale.

Lesson #2: Sustainable forest management does not mean a declining wood products industry

A sustainable forest maintains biodiversity, productivity, and regeneration capacity and fulfills ecological, economic and social functions. The definition of forest sustainability includes ample room for the monetization of trees and in some cases requires it. Studies have shown that strong markets for forestry products lead to increased productivity as landowners are incentivized to invest in forestry management practices that reduce wildfire and disease risks.

In the Southern US where there is a thriving wood products industry, timber harvests have increased 57% over the past 50 years due to population growth and increased demand. During the same period, the total amount of wood fiber stored in Southern forests has increased by 108%. The increase in productivity can be primarily attributed to partnerships between landowners, corporate actors, and government developing advances in management practices that include seed modification, site prep, planting, weed control, and thinning. In summary, better-managed forests spurred by increased demand have led to a significant increase in the amount of carbon sequestering trees.

Source: Forest2Market, “Historical Perspective on the Relationship Between Demand and Forest Productivity in the South: At a Glance.” 2017.

Lesson #3: Increased demand for advanced wood products is crucial in meeting SDGs

In 2015 UN Member Nations agreed to a 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that outlines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are an urgent call to action by all to end poverty and spur inclusive economic growth all while tackling climate change and protecting our natural resources.

At Attis, we believe the deployment of our biorefineries across the globe can be a contributing factor to meeting the SDGs. Attis’ technologies are feedstock agnostic but work particularly well with woody biomass, which as we know is extremely prevalent. Our facilities are profitable on small scales; this means in heavily forested areas, nearby towns could each have an Attis manufacturing facility and not have to compete for feedstock. Competition for end products is also a non-factor as multiple commodity products can be produced from our facilities including but not limited to paper, sugar, cellulosic fuel, bioplastic, carbon fibers, adhesives--basically anything made from cellulose and lignin.

Attis’ biorefineries produce high-value products that replace fossil fuels and create good paying jobs throughout the supply chain. The strong market demand for a renewable supply of feedstock encourages the sustainable management of resources. The many potential locations for a biorefinery narrow inequalities around the globe and allow for independent and secure energy supplies. Just as many of the SDGs are intertwined, so too are the benefits of Attis’ biorefineries.

This concludes our lesson on ‘Learn to Love Forests’ Day, and we hope to have piqued your interest in the essential role forests have in our transition to a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive green economy.