The Appalachian Mountain Club takes a holistic approach to sustainable forestry in the Maine Woods Initiative project.  This video provides great look at harvesting equipment in use.

(Source: youtube.com)

What kind of wood does Sappi use and why is this important? Go

First – let’s consider the trees we do not use.

We are not using rare and slow-growing species like Giant Sequoia or Coastal Redwood.  Our suppliers are not harvesting trees in National Parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite.  And while I’m not exactly sure where the Grickle-grass grows (home of the Once-ler and the Lorax) I can assure you that our paper is Truffula Tree Free.

Instead, we use trees that are abundantly grown in the areas in which we harvest.  For instance, in Minnesota where our Cloquet Mill is located, Aspen is the most common tree in the state and is therefore the most harvested tree.  By focusing on thinning the population of pioneer species like Aspen and Birch, which grow rapidly but don’t live long, we can promote biodiversity by giving other species a chance to take root.  In Maine, home to our Somerset mill, Spruce, Fir and northern hardwoods like Maple and Birch dominate the landscape and are therefore harvested more than other species.

Using a variety of sources makes sure that no particular species is over-harvested and also plays an important role in papermaking.  Generally speaking softwood trees like Spruce, Fir and Pine have long fibers which provide good strength properties.  On the other hand, hardwood trees have shorter fibers which provide paper properties that are essential for printing (like smoothness and opacity).

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Note: Grickle-grass, Once-ler, Lorax and Truffula Trees are all from the Dr. Seuss Book “The Lorax”.

Give your gadget a new life Go

A colleague of mine recently shared an article from Adweek.com entitled “Where Your Gadgets Go to Die.”  As indicated by the title, it’s a fairly critical look at e-waste, citing statistics of the growing volume and concerns over data integrity and environmental impacts of a potentially toxic waste stream.  The article does acknowledge a growing level of responsibility on behalf of retailers.  And it also touches on the notion of reuse while indicating that only a small percentage of computers can be refurbished.  The writer quotes the VP of marketing from Systemax saying “There’s a great market in Latin America for used laptops”.

Frankly, I found the story somewhat disheartening.  But this morning I had a very different look at attacking the e-waste challenge.  Our corps of sustainability ambassadors at our South Portland facility is hosting an e-waste drive this week, encouraging everyone to clean out their closets and dispose of unwanted items responsibly (and at no cost to employees).  As part of the event they invited Chris Martin of eWaste Alternatives to come speak and answer questions.  I got to hear first hand from Chris how they work to squeeze the highest value from the waste stream through refurbishment, separation and resale of parts, and scrap recovery.

Chris cited a national average refurbishment rate of just 2% re-use whereas their facility has achieved a level of 34%.  It is hard to point to any single explanation for why eWaste Alternatives is nearly 15 times higher than the national average.  But I think the primary reason is because they didn’t start out as a waste handler.  They started out with a mission of helping low income families with access to information technology.   You couldn’t miss the passion in Chris’ voice as he talked about technology as an enabler for remote locations like rural Maine.  Their primary goal is not disposal or even recycling – they seek first to refurbish and put computers back in service.  They are helping communities while helping to reduce a waste problem.  Oh yes, and the program is more cost effective for Sappi than our previous waste handler. 

So the next time you upgrade your gadget think about where the old one will end up.  Can you find a service provider that specializes in refurbishment? Or will the device get shredded and scrapped to simply recover materials? 

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Click here to read more about how Sappi is supporting e-waste Alternatives.

Or download our 2011 Sustainability Report and look for the story on page 28.

Perhaps I should write for the NY Times Go

In Monday’s post, I commented on a lengthy New York Times article written by Justin Gillis.  In this article, the author wrote about his experiences in talking to scientists about the pine beetle infestation in the West as well as his visit to an active research site, the Harvard Forest.  He is not alone on his quest for knowledge.  In fact we share very similar experiences.

In the summer of 2010, I visited British Columbia to see the impact of the pine beetle in that region.  The picture below was taken from a helicopter owned by Canfor (a producer of timber and market pulp that operates in that region).  This was the first time I had ever seen this type of landscape event in person.  As far as the eye could see, dead stands of trees killed by pine beetles.

While I have not visited Harvard Forest in Massachusetts, I did visit a similar site – the Howland Research Forest,  with Bryan Dail in Maine almost three years ago.  Originally established by International Paper in 1986, Howland has served as a vital site in studies on the impact of acid rain and more recently on carbon uptake and loss.

I got to see firsthand some of the research being conducted to better understand the impact of forest management on climate change. Like Gillis I overcame my fear of heights and climbed a CO2 monitoring tower to actually experience atmospheric data being monitored in real time.  One of the most memorable takeaways for me was to see recent trend data, CO2 concentrations in a saw tooth pattern moving slightly up and down reflecting the pattern of daylight.  When the forest sleeps at night (without sunlight) the rate of CO2 absorbtion slows down and the concentration in the atmosphere increases slightly.  As the sun emerges the next day, the forest awakes and the CO2 drops.  Amazing – literally watching forest respiration.

So, the bad news is that these landscape events are occurring.  And the good news is that foresters are actively researching the key issues and have tools at the ready to help combat against these events.  Keeping forests healthy, with diverse age classes, helps to fight against disease, pest infestations and wildfire.  Results from studies at Howland indicates that shelterwood harvesting can enhance carbon sequestration.

Of course, forest management comes at an expense.  In the wood and paper industry, by buying wood from responsibly managed forests we are helping to provide the revenue stream that in turn helps landowners protect the forest.    

We don’t plant trees Go

When I took on my role as Director of Sustainability in 2007, one of the first things I did was take a tour of a working forest with the head of our wood procurement group.  As a hands-on learner I wanted to see the difference between certified and un-certified logging practices. 

My tour guide, Ryan McAvoy, gave me a crash course in a practice called shelterwood harvesting.  He was able to point out how trees are selected for cutting, how the natural contours of the land are followed, how ground cover is left on skid trails to protect against soil compaction, how consideration is given for aesthetics, and he also identified trees left behind specifically to help reseed the forest.  I saw land that was marked to be cut, land that had been recently cut and other tracts of land that had been cut years before and re-grown. 

Throughout the tour I kept looking for evidence of planting and I asked Ryan what the ratio was for replanting vs. cutting to which he simply replied,  “We don’t plant trees”.  At first I thought I hadn’t heard him correctly, so I asked again at another spot on the tour.  And then again later.  Each time his reply was the same and in hindsight it occurs to me that he was probably thinking I was a little slow on the uptake.  We don’t plant trees because we don’t have to.  In the Maine woods - and in Minnesota too – the forest is naturally regenerated.  The trees grow like weeds.

Nowadays I think of the shelterwood practice much like pruning a bush – select cutting opens up the canopy allowing access to more light improving the growth of the trees left behind.  Removal of deadwood and less desirable species makes for a healthier forest.

Toward the end of the tour Ryan pointed to an area by the road and explained that in that one spot – indeed there would be some replanting.  Because it had been used as a landing area, there was concern that the soil had been compacted.  So yes, seedlings were planted in the landing area but otherwise: We don’t plant trees because we don’t have to.  Mother Nature does it for us.

If you are interested in learning more about forestry in Maine or Minnesota check out these two links:

Maine Tree Foundation            

Minnesota Forest Resource Council

Or visit Sappi’s website to see how our foresters are working directly with local landowners:

SFPNA Sustainable Forestry Program