Linda Walker WWF.jpgSo as a break from all the EPA stuff I've offered up over the last couple of months, I thought I'd ask a good friend of mine, Linda Walker of the World Wildlife Fund's excellent Global Forest & Trade Network-North America (GFTN-NA) program, to jump in for me. This week, she'll talk about the findings of WWF's most recent Living Forests Report on forest products, and the overwhelming task of meeting the world's rising demand while conserving Earth's biodiversity.

Linda, take it away:

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss this enormous challenge! As Director of the GFTN program in North America, I work to promote responsible forest management and trade by engaging with North American companies to secure and implement their commitments to responsible forestry and credible certification. I am constantly examining the following big question: Can we produce more wood without destroying or degrading forests, in a world where competition for land and water is increasing?

Demand for wood and wood products is expected to triple between 2010 and 2050. Even with more frugal use and greater efficiencies, the amount of wood we take from forests and plantations will continue to grow and we will likely use more wood in more ways as the future unfolds. This projection can be daunting, but if production forests are managed responsibly and wood products are used efficiently or replace others with a heavier footprint, we can turn this into something good for the planet. By rising to the challenge, we can meet rising demand for wood-based products while conserving our forests and the more than 300 million people and 80% of terrestrial biodiversity that call these forests home.

Wood's Natural AdvantageThe market for wood can motivate good forest stewardship that safeguards a critical resource and protects forest values, or it can destroy the very places where wood grows, in turn depleting resources for future generations. The capacity of production forests to provide ecosystem services and sustain timber yields varies greatly depending on how well they are managed and the values protected in the surrounding areas. This is why production forests play a crucial role in maintaining global climate, economic development and biodiversity conservation.

Nature already takes care of much of the engineering and synthesis for the best quality wood-wood is a strong, pliable, aesthetically appealing raw material that can be produced with less energy and pollution than artificial materials such as steel and plastic. Solid wood items such as furniture, flooring or wood used in construction can have extremely long working lives. With sustainable design, care, and maintenance, wooden furniture can last for 100 years or more, and wooden structural components in buildings can endure for centuries. Even in extreme environments, such as in water, wooden pilings can last much longer than other materials like steel or concrete.

But there are also many things that can undermine this natural advantage-unsustainable forestry practices can hurt forests, huge logs can be lost or wasted, and indiscriminate plantation expansion can displace communities and take away their livelihoods.

More Demand, More OpportunityThe challenge of meeting rising demand while conserving our forests spans the whole supply chain, from where and how wood is grown and harvested, to how wisely and efficiently wood is processed, used, and reused. The increased demand for sawn wood and panels could compound the pressure on forests in some of the world's most biodiverse places such as the Amazon and Guianas, Choco-Darien, Borneo, Sumatra, the Atlantic forests of Brazil, the montane forests of Altai-Sayan, the Mekong region, and many more.

While a projected mass escalation in use of wood for bioenergy is the main driver of rising demand, the natural benefits of wood for flooring and construction have opened the door to a strategy for conservation. Forest stewardship, motivated by a commercial interest in maintaining wood supply, can help protect vulnerable forests from illegal logging, encroachment, or conversion to farmland.

The wood product industry is a vital player in keeping the world's forests healthy, and next week, I'll offer you some resources to help.

Elizabeth Baldwin has over 20 years of international wood sourcing experience. Very widely traveled, her résumé's "Special Skills" section includes "the ability to eat anything from raw horse to deep-fried scorpion." She serves as Metropolitan Hardwood Flooring's (metrofloors.com) ECO (Environmental Compliance Officer) and deals daily with the "green alphabet soup" of today's industry: FSC, CARB, LEED, and much more. She blogs for Hardwood Floors on all things green (and, as she says, " 'grey' and 'blue' and almost every color except 'black and white.' Nothing in this world is black and white, particularly not 'green issues.'")