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A sustainable future: How your next home project could help end illegal logging

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forest funAs part of staying home these last many months, I’ve been working on different projects around the house. When I buy new materials for these projects from the home improvement stores in my community, I of course look for the best combination of quality and price, but like so many others today but I’m looking for something else as well. Is this wood trim for example, responsibly and sustainably produced? Where did it come from and how can I trust that what the brand and retailer is telling me about it, is true?

I’m not alone of course in wanting to make more informed buying decisions. According to our 2020 IBV report nearly 57 percent of consumers are willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative environmental impact and Harvard Business Review recently highlighted a NYU Stern study that found 50 percent Of U.S. CPG industry growth from 2013-2018 came from sustainability-marketed products.

As the U.S. re-enters the Paris Climate Accord as well, sustainability and responsible sourcing transparency is rapidly becoming a more critical priority for businesses as well as individual consumers. I see this shift happening real time in the work I lead today with organizations who are coming together with their clients, suppliers and other ecosystem partners to transition business models and redefine their role in the new green economy.

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What specific problems are we solving though and how does that help build trust downstream for us as consumers — and for me specifically in the example of choosing my wood trim product?

The forestry industry challenges

Let’s take a closer look at some of the issues surrounding my wood trim buying example:

  • Illegal logging is a systemic global problem with impacts that affect us all. From driving an annual global market loss of nearly USD 15 billion, the effects are felt along the entire supply chain from the small landowner to the highest levels of government. Illegal logging is directly tied to forest and wildlife habitat destruction, has a devastating impact on water quality and places pricing pressure on legally sourced fiber. Sadly, illegal logging also contributes to egregious violations of child labor laws around the world.
  • In the U.S. and Canada while there is little illegal harvesting and transportation activity, the industry ecosystem could benefit from new means to easily and cost-effectively track material from the forest to the consumer to increase customer trust especially as relates to confirmation of credible sourcing associated with product certification programs.
  • In other parts of the world, especially where land titles are not clear and rule of law is not as rigorous, significant volumes of timber is harvested, transported, processed, bought or sold in violation of national or subnational laws.

So how can we tackle these challenges with the needed ecosystem transparency and trust and who’s leading the charge?

Partnering for sustainable forests

ForesTrust, a recently announced new venture, is one such organization helping to lead the fight against illegal logging and its impacts. This collaboration which I am proud to lead, between the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (the Endowment), IBM and key stakeholders is focused on how to accurately and efficiently track wood and wood fiber from the forest to the consumer with blockchain.

“By having transparency into each step of the product’s journey, producers and consumers will have peace of mind about the origins of their fiber and richer insight into its journey and compliance inspections,” said Alicia Cramer, Senior Vice President with the Endowment. ForesTrust will be a permissioned blockchain network that provides an efficient way of working across the fiber supply chain for member landowners, harvesters, producers, logistic suppliers, retailers, regulators, and consumers.”

So ultimately what this could mean for you and me in the future of home improvement projects is verified transparency and trust.

The future of your next home project

It could mean that when I go to the store to buy my wood trim in future, I will be able take a picture of the product QR code with my phone and see the entire, independently verified supply chain right down to which section of forest the tree came from, who harvested it, how it was moved and processed and all the checks and balances by auditors along the way that ensure this product was responsibly and sustainably sourced.

We are delivering this type of supply chain insight and enhanced decision making today in ecosystems like Food Trust and TradeLens so we know it’s possible and we know it can be real. And all of that access and accountability makes it just a little easier for us all who want to help. And frankly I couldn’t be more excited to see where we go next.

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