Two Dynamic Tuesday High-Level Forums 

Apple & WWF are followed by "tall wood" architect Michael Green

By Brad Kahn, FSC USA

Tuesday’s High-Level Forum was split in two, with an opening session led by Apple and WWF, followed by Vancouver architect and advocate for tall wood buildings, Michael Green.

As the world’s most valuable brand, when Apple moves people take notice. Opening the session, Sarah Chandler, Apple’s Director of Operations, Product Development, and Environmental Initiatives started by outlining the company’s efforts to close materials loops, part of its ambition to make their iconic products using entirely recyclable or renewable materials.

With this goal in mind, Chandler described their three-part strategy for forest products, which includes increasing the efficiency of packaging, using as much recycled content as possible, and sourcing virgin paper from responsible sources, including FSC-certified sources. Apple’s partnership with WWF fits within this context.

Concerned about drawing down limited supplies of certified materials, Apple decided to create new additional supply of certified material that was equivalent to all of its packaging needs. In China, this translated into 130,000 new hectares of FSC-certified forest, in partnership with WWF.

Closing her remarks, Chandler encouraged companies in the audience to set ambitious goals and get started. “Starting the journey is the most important step,” she noted.

Stepping to the podium next, Kerry Cesareo, Vice President of Forests for WWF US, described the partnership with Apple as it related to the emerging concept of “forest positive.” Inspired by the notion of “carbon positive,” which means storing more carbon than is released, WWF is working to determine what a similar concept for forests might mean.

“How much and what quality of forest do we need to sustain life on earth?” Cesareo asked rhetorically. Whereas the goal of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius is commonly accepted, what is a similar target for forests?

While hundreds of companies are helping drive demand for responsibly managed forests, recent research by WWF makes it is clear that more is needed to conserve, protect and restore forests if we intend to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

In an effort to scale up the concept of forest positive to sustain life on earth, Cesareo offered three suggestions: Set targets that are informed by nature, not just company impacts. “We have to look at not just what we need from forests, but what forests need,” she said. Second, harness direct influence to reduce threats to forests. Zero deforestation pledges would be an example of this step. And finally, align toward something bigger – a shared vision between governments, companies, NGOs, and communities – to make sure investments in responsible forest management are sustained over the long term. In closing during the discussion, Cesareo summed up FSC’s role by saying, there is no path to forest positive without FSC-certified responsible forest management.

In the second half of the High-Level Forum, Michael Green made the case for tall wood buildings, with emphasis on getting the details right to ensure society does not substitute one set of problems (e.g., carbon emissions from steel and concrete) for another (e.g., deforestation). With a TED Talk that has been viewed more than 1 million times in 30 languages, Green has become a global advocate for mass timber construction.

Mass timber construction is becoming a movement, with interest from around the world. While Green is one of the leading advocates, he also urged caution that, “building with wood can be good or a disaster,” if we manage forests poorly or use too much wood in construction.

Stating that his firm “goes FSC whenever possible,” Green acknowledged that it can be a challenge in British Columbia, where there is little FSC-certified forest, “which can be really frustrating,” he added.

As the head of a small architecture firm with global demand for its services, Green realized he needed to scale up by helping others get educated about mass timber. Through the development of Timber Online Education, Green is creating a free platform to provide technical information to a wide array of audiences, including policy makers, developers, architects and engineers.

Green closed with a personal anecdote, talking about how he fell in love with a tamarack tree as a five-year-old. His father told him, “when you cut down a tree, it’s a life. Don’t waste it.” From this early passion, his current work flowed.

If done right, Green sees the potential to revolutionize the building sector, and in the process, help save humanity from climate change. “What FSC does is critical to the success or failure of this effort,” he said. “I am asking for those interested to contribute expertise,” he said to the crowd.