As 2023 comes to a close, hopeful describes how SFI embraces 2024. The importance of forests for people and the planet is clear, and SFI has established itself as a leader working to advance sustainability through forest-focused collaboration. People and organizations are seeking solutions that don’t just reduce negative impacts, but also ensure positive contributions to the long-term health of people and the planet.
SFI-certified forests and products are powerful tools to achieve shared goals such as climate-smart forestry, fire resilience, conservation of biodiversity, reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, and growing a diverse and resilient workforce. We have learned how much we can achieve together and how our shared efforts can result in better practices on the land, to the benefit of so many communities while improving our shared quality of life.
I am so excited to release the 2023 SFI Progress Report and share some of our shared successes thanks to our vast networks. In 2023, we took important steps in our sustainability journey, and I am pleased to share some of our highlights.
The year 2023 was marked by another devastating wildfire season, reinforcing the urgent need for sustainable forest management to create fire and climate resilient forests. The SFI 2022 Standards introduced progressive new requirements, such as objectives in the SFI Forest Management Standard related to climate smart forestry, fire resiliency and awareness, as well as deepening training and relationships with Indigenous communities to better understand what it means to respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights. We also made important improvements in the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard as it relates to assessing and maintaining biodiversity. The SFI Standards bring about positive change, and we now know through our annual survey results that approximately 50% of SFI-certified organizations needed to change their management practices to meet these new requirements, building on the other 50% SFI-certified organizations who were already implementing such practices.
I am also proud that we launched the new SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard after two years of development thanks to public comment and the diligence of our name the SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard Development Task Group. We were also so fortunate to have the leadership support from key CEOs and organizations in this sector as we developed and launched our new SFI Standard, including the International Society of Arboriculture, Arbor Day Foundation, American Forests, Tree Canada, and the Urban & Community Forestry Society. It is also very exciting to know we can kick off 2024 with our sleeves rolled up thanks to a USDA pass through grant for $5 million to support urban and community forestry in underserved communities through the application of key programmatic elements of our new SFI Standard.
Our SFI Community Grants Program announced an unprecedented 16 new grants in 2023, with support for the program surpassing $1 million invested since 2010.
And since 2022, 34,000 people in SFI-certified organizations were trained in recognizing and respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples to meet the SFI Forest Management Standard’s Objective 8, Recognize and Respect Indigenous Peoples’s Rights. SFI and Sault College’s Indigenous Rights and Relationship Building courses is available to support organizations to improve their understanding of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, learn how to build respectful relationships, and gain micro-credentials.
SFI conservation programs continued to deliver credible and effective forest-focused solutions to sustainability challenges. SFI is the only forestry standard that has a research requirement, and we are so excited that, with the additional $83 million in research funds reported for 2022, investments by SFI-certified organizations in forestry research have surpassed $2 billion since 1995.
Beyond this, SFI has attracted an additional $400k in research funds in 2023 to advance at-risk bird habitat research in partnership with certified organizations, government, and academic partners. Further, SFI-support research has resulted in a new Climate Smart Forestry handbook, highlighted during the fall 2023 Conservation Impact Sounding Board.
In 2023, SFI’s educational initiatives, Project Learning Tree (PLT) and PLT Canada, worked on advancing a lifetime of learning through environmental education, forest literacy, and career pathways. We also launched many new and exciting products in 2023, including the SFI-PLT-MANRRS Black Faces in Green Spaces: The Journeys of Black Professionals Guide, Forest Quest, and the Canadian Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide.
PLT have trained over 11,000 educators in 2022 in the United States, while PLT Canada has placed young adults in more than 7,600 green jobs since 2018 and supported over 600 mentorship participants in 11 cohorts since 2020. I invite you to read PLT Canada’s 2023 Annual Report. We continue to be inspired to find new ways of collaborating with Indigenous, Black American, and underserved audiences through the creation of partnerships, tools, and resources.
The challenges before us are complex, but with increased opportunities for collaboration, SFI is ready to answer the call with you. I look forward to hearing from you and working collaboratively to advance forest-positive, people-positive, and nature-positive solutions now and in the years to come.
Best wishes for a safe and joyful holiday season and a Happy New Year!
President and CEO