Branch office: Interface, Staples invest in forest offsets

Branch office: Interface, Staples invest in forest offsets

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Six years ago, Dogwood Alliance and Staples buried the hatchet in a longstanding dispute over timber management practices and teamed up to create a first-of-its-kind carbon exchange -- called Carbon Canopy -- to support sustainable forestry projects.

Its first focus: the richly biodiverse, temperate forest that blankets the southern United States.

And now, the exchange has completed its first two transactions with Staples and Interface: covering a total of 12,000 acres of Forest Stewardship Council (FCS) certified land in Western North Carolina and Southwestern Virginia.

Each acre produces an estimated two and three carbon offsets annually, according to Carbon Canopy accounting methods, which comply with Air Resources Board requirements. Together, the contracts will create more than 100,000 metric tons of carbon offsets in the first year. Office supplies company Staples plans to use the credits toward its higher-level corporate sustainability goals, while carpet maker Interface intends to apply them toward certain products for which it has claimed carbon neutrality, said Andrew Goldberg, director of corporate engagement at Dogwood Alliance.

"While today's projects define the new progressive edge in forestry, we fully expect this concept to become mainstream within a decade," Goldberg said as part of an announcement during the Greenbuild conference in Philadelphia. "Today's announcement represents a future where the climate benefits of trees left standing actually have a market value, where long-term conservation of forests is profitable for landowners, and where the forest products that we all use originate from management practices that conserve and restore, rather than degrade forests."

In any given year, 5 million to 7 million U.S. timber acres are harvested – about 20 percent of the world's wood and paper products. For many southern states in this region, the industry is a critical driver of economic growth.

Through Carbon Canopy, FSC-certified landowners receive income from selling credits and from selling FSC-certified wood. The exchange enables companies with climate commitments to voluntarily purchase California Air Resources Board offsets to use against them.

Canadian paper giant Domtar, which has a future goal (with an unstated deadline) of sourcing all its paper from FSC-managed fiber, is one of the big-name companies backing Carbon Canopy. "This sort of initiative helps push the education about FSC into the industry mainstream and it really promotes the concept of forest conservation as a viable business strategy," said Paige Goff, vice president of sustainability and business communications for the company.

Domtar was the first big paper company to earn FSC certification more than a decade ago; it relies on FSC-managed forests as its preferred source for fiber. Three years ago, the company created the Four States Timberland Owners Association to help Southern U.S. landowners invest in sustainable forest management certification. By November 2012, it helped 55 individual landowners reach this goal, representing 70,000 acres.

The projects at the center of the Carbon Canopy's current portfolio are the Balsam Mountain Preserve (pictured), the North Carolina home of a unique 4,400-acre conservation-centered real estate development. The property will generate approximately 32,750 credits.

The Forestland Group, which manages the largest U.S. portfolio of hardwood forests, is behind an even bigger project across the Southern Appalachians: it eventually will create 100,000 offsets.

Besides Domtar, Staples and Interface, other big corporate partners in the Carbon Canopy include Columbia Forest Products, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Rainforest Alliance, Pacific Forest Trust, National Woodland Owners Association, the Forest Stewardship Council U.S. and Forest Stewards.

"We are really proud that we have brought all elements of the supply chain," said Goldberg. "The industry will help drive positive change as long as the market insists on continuous improvement."