From my forest to the 30th floor of a skyscraper…to discuss “saving trees”

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 02/21/2013

I was walking down a busy downtown street surrounded by tall mega-buildings, trying to ignore the bitter icy wind, when a realization crossed my mind.  My travels have brought me from the beautiful forested lot I own to the 30th floor of a skyscraper to discuss “save-a-tree” claims with a well-known bank that’s encouraging customers to choose lower-cost electronic statements instead of paper.

The situation seemed so ironic and somewhat ridiculous.  I began day-dreaming about my enjoyable trip earlier that week when I was snowshoeing with my dog on a peaceful day after a snowstorm, surrounded by surreal-looking snow-covered spruce and fir trees.

Questions popped into my mind one after the other:

Have these executives ever visited a privately-owned forest?

Do they understand all the social, environmental and economic benefits such land offers?

Have they ever talked to a private forest owner?

Do they realize they are upsetting so many people with misleading claims about paper; a product made from responsibly managed and renewable North American forests that’s highly recyclable, made from a high percentage of renewable energy, and that stores carbon over its useful lifetime?

Do they realize that switching from paper to electronic communication is not without impacts and that our rapidly growing appetite for e-gadgets is causing a drain on non-renewable resources and rapidly increasing the amount of e-waste we need to deal with?

In fact…how much thought have they put into their environmental marketing message to promote e-statements?

Even before my meeting, I had to conclude …not much!

The meeting went relatively well but I don’t know if this company will change its marketing claims.  I said all I could to the corporate lawyers and environmental staff facing me.  I used all the key arguments I knew to explain that responsibly produced and used paper can be a sustainable way to communicate.  But in the end, they didn’t appear convinced.  Why?

The main reason I can think of is that there is a significant disconnect between many people, including corporate executives, and the print and paper value chain.  I wish they had been with me the week before, walking through my forest.  I would have told them about the 60-plus bird species that make their habitat there in the summer, from ospreys to numerous species of wood warblers, the edible mushrooms and berries I often collect and cook with (my Chanterelle soup is to do die for…according to me!), and the speckled trout and salmon that swim by every summer in the cool clean waters of the river bordering the land.  We would have also examined the numerous tracks in the snow: moose, white-tailed deer, short-tailed weasel, snowshoe hare, red fox, coyote and more.  These are the real-life images of sustainable forestry.

The land I own has been used for over 200 years to produce forests products and it is still a healthy forest with most of the tree species that were there when Europeans first moved to the area, as well as the wildlife and birds.  The original deed, written in old English, dates back to July 19, 1810 from the office of George the Third, King of England and Ireland.  That was the year the tin can was invented and Beethoven composed Fur Elise!

Written in the deed is a statement that the British Crown reserved the right to the tallest and strongest Eastern White Pine trees to use them for masts in the local ship-building industry.  Since that day, numerous forest products have been made from this land—pulp, timber and OSB for construction and many others, yet it remains a beautiful forest with all its bounty.

Hopefully more people, from school children to corporate executives, will someday have a better understanding of the multitude of environmental benefits that responsibly managed forests bring us.  The need for a more science-based environmental education in our school system is clear.  In the meantime, Two Sides continues to educate people on the value of sustainable forestry and forest products like paper.

The good news is that persistence does pay off, as my second meeting with a different company resulted in true commitment and an invitation to sit on a stakeholder committee to help craft an accurate environmental message.  They had even recently hired a forester as part of their environmental team…there is hope!

Phil Riebel
President and COO
Two Sides U.S., Inc.