Forestry has to be sustainable

COLUMN

I am an advocate for plantation forestry sustainability. It provides an opportunity for forest-based communities across the regions to utilise their natural resources as a basis for long-term economic, social and environmental health.

Plantation forestry essentially entails growing trees for cropping primarily for commercial purposes. One of its main benefits is job creation, and not just inside the forest gate but outside it through downstream processing, manufacturing and industry-servicing activity. At the global level, where current demand for forest products is strong and is driving export growth, the competitive nature of plantation forestry and the drive to maximise value recovery can be a cut-throat game. But when you spoon “sustainability” into the mix, everything changes.

I like to view plantation forestry sustainability simply as the ability to successfully compete in the plantation forestry sector indefinitely. This entails focusing on strengthening the three pillars of sustainability — social (people), environmental (planet), and economic (profits). If any one of the pillars is neglected, the whole system may crash.

For example, if too much weight is accorded to profits at the expense of the environment, or the benefits to local people by, say, replacing workers with machines, then foresters risk having their social licence to operate revoked by those communities that are adversely affected by its profit-heavy practices.

A plantation forestry sustainability indicator is an indicator that is useful in monitoring, making decisions about, or measuring progress towards sustainability. A high forestry death toll; a critical shortage of in-forest skills; poor training outcomes; poor working conditions; and torrential rain events that wash tonnes of woody debris and forestry slash on to roads, bridges and properties, are all key sustainability indicators. My assessment of these indicators unequivocally concludes that the current business model is unsustainable. An underlying problem, I would suggest, is a lack of effective strategic leadership.

It follows that the solution to moving the industry towards achieving its ambitious target of zero deaths and serious injuries; to balancing the skills demand and supply scales; to improving working conditions; and to avoiding any adverse effects on the environment and infrastructure, is to shift the industry to a sustainable business model.

Three things are needed to execute that shift: (1) effective strategic leadership with vision; (2) as strategy follows vision, an effective Forestry Sustainability Strategy; and (3) credible evidence to support the strategy’s high-impact interventions.

The vision I have for forestry on the East Coast is a world where competent and productive workers are doing safe and sustainable work for profitable companies. The companies I see in my vision include those that are locally owned and operated.

For success, you cannot have strategy and no leadership, or leadership and no strategy. Because you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink, the strategy must be industry-led not Government-led. It must include an environmental protection sub-strategy that seeks to monitor the effectiveness of the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry as well as the council’s performance in enforcing compliance. This must occur within a broader environmental protection framework given the policy objective of the NES-PF is to improve environmental outcomes. “Improved” outcomes are not necessarily sustainable.

A sustainable community might be defined as a community that seeks to improve and enhance its economy, culture and environment in ways that enrich the lives of both its current and future inhabitants. The forest industry is a part of the social fabric of regional New Zealand and can, by choice, play the lead role in shaping a sustainable future for all of us. It all starts with a shift in mindset.

I am an advocate for plantation forestry sustainability. It provides an opportunity for forest-based communities across the regions to utilise their natural resources as a basis for long-term economic, social and environmental health.

Plantation forestry essentially entails growing trees for cropping primarily for commercial purposes. One of its main benefits is job creation, and not just inside the forest gate but outside it through downstream processing, manufacturing and industry-servicing activity. At the global level, where current demand for forest products is strong and is driving export growth, the competitive nature of plantation forestry and the drive to maximise value recovery can be a cut-throat game. But when you spoon “sustainability” into the mix, everything changes.

I like to view plantation forestry sustainability simply as the ability to successfully compete in the plantation forestry sector indefinitely. This entails focusing on strengthening the three pillars of sustainability — social (people), environmental (planet), and economic (profits). If any one of the pillars is neglected, the whole system may crash.

For example, if too much weight is accorded to profits at the expense of the environment, or the benefits to local people by, say, replacing workers with machines, then foresters risk having their social licence to operate revoked by those communities that are adversely affected by its profit-heavy practices.

A plantation forestry sustainability indicator is an indicator that is useful in monitoring, making decisions about, or measuring progress towards sustainability. A high forestry death toll; a critical shortage of in-forest skills; poor training outcomes; poor working conditions; and torrential rain events that wash tonnes of woody debris and forestry slash on to roads, bridges and properties, are all key sustainability indicators. My assessment of these indicators unequivocally concludes that the current business model is unsustainable. An underlying problem, I would suggest, is a lack of effective strategic leadership.

It follows that the solution to moving the industry towards achieving its ambitious target of zero deaths and serious injuries; to balancing the skills demand and supply scales; to improving working conditions; and to avoiding any adverse effects on the environment and infrastructure, is to shift the industry to a sustainable business model.

Three things are needed to execute that shift: (1) effective strategic leadership with vision; (2) as strategy follows vision, an effective Forestry Sustainability Strategy; and (3) credible evidence to support the strategy’s high-impact interventions.

The vision I have for forestry on the East Coast is a world where competent and productive workers are doing safe and sustainable work for profitable companies. The companies I see in my vision include those that are locally owned and operated.

For success, you cannot have strategy and no leadership, or leadership and no strategy. Because you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink, the strategy must be industry-led not Government-led. It must include an environmental protection sub-strategy that seeks to monitor the effectiveness of the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry as well as the council’s performance in enforcing compliance. This must occur within a broader environmental protection framework given the policy objective of the NES-PF is to improve environmental outcomes. “Improved” outcomes are not necessarily sustainable.

A sustainable community might be defined as a community that seeks to improve and enhance its economy, culture and environment in ways that enrich the lives of both its current and future inhabitants. The forest industry is a part of the social fabric of regional New Zealand and can, by choice, play the lead role in shaping a sustainable future for all of us. It all starts with a shift in mindset.

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