Fear and uncertainty surrounds much of how we think about our planet. It seems that every week there is new information focused on imminent extinctions, critical resource depletion, or insurmountable ecological degradation. We fear that humanity is too late, that we have done too little, and we’re uncertain that our environment will continue to serve as the sanctuary it always has been.

EarthDay_Rocco_Apr2015But where others are moved to fear, I am moved to hope. And for all the uncertainty, I have great optimism. I had the pleasure of spending last week, April 23-28, at Earth Day Texas. With 70,000 participants, 1,500 exhibitors, and dozens of interactive sessions, it’s the largest Earth Day celebration in the US. While the scale of the event is encouraging, it’s the breadth of its participants that is truly moving. Attendees included corporate and local businesses, environmental and conservation advocates, community and education non-profits, and ranged across the political spectrum.

All these different groups have their own unique perspective, but they share a common vision: a sustainable future built upon collaboration. That vision is at the very heart of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Every day, the SFI program helps to build partnerships between industry, conservation, academia and communities. SFI staff work tirelessly to enhance the connection between healthy forests, sustainable communities and a strong economy.

We achieve this vision through the SFI Conservation and Community Partnership Grant Program, our 34 state and provincial SFI Implementation Committees, and participation in numerous sustainable market consortiums. Our Program Participants achieve this vision through the 250 million acres of responsibly managed forests certified to the SFI Standard.

At Earth Day Texas, SFI was fortunate to have several great opportunities. I personally hosted an information booth next to the Texas A&M Forest Service and Project Learning Tree, Texas. These two highly driven groups collaborate with SFI through our Texas SFI Implementation Committee. Together we work to increase the profile of sustainable forest management, conduct outreach and education to youth and local communities, and enhance the connection between healthy markets and healthy forests. Earth Day Texas gave us the chance to spread this message to thousands of individuals.

My friend and co-worker Barry Graden, Director, Southeast U.S. Community Outreach, was heartened by a Future 500 roundtable discussion about the future of sustainability and the environment. “No matter what side of forest discussions participants were on, we could all agree that the future of forests is important to everyone, and that we all depend on healthy forests for our quality of life,” he said.

This basic tenet is one to which SFI subscribes and can serve as a springboard for constructive dialogue on forest issues, even if we don’t always agree on the same path to environmental responsibility. As Barry says, “Global brand owners can — and do — play an important role by establishing a position to promote responsible forest management and then putting their doctrines into action by supporting forest certification and on-product labelling to help engage consumers in support of a healthy, future for our forests.”

Barry’s own work on the SFI Forest Partners Program is a perfect example of this. The program, driven by founding partners Time Inc., National Geographic, Macmillan Publishers and Pearson, with additional support from Hearst Enterprises, seeks to increase certification to the SFI Standard by 10 million acres by 2017 in the U.S. South. This program is building numerous partnerships while expanding the SFI’s sustainability footprint.

Indeed, the increase in forests certified to the SFI standard is making a significant environmental impact. Every day, these forests are providing a solution to the majority of environmental issues people fear. They are serving as habitat to rare and endangered species, sequestering carbon and providing innumerable ecological services, such as improving water and air quality. They are also providing renewable resources that we all rely on.

I have to have hope for the future; I’m planning on being on Earth for a long time. I plan that my future children will be here even longer. I know that with hard work we can leave the planet healthier than how we inherited it. That’s what we are striving for at SFI. I’m optimistic, because if such a wide range of stakeholders can come together in Texas to collaborate for a sustainable future, anything is possible.


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