Sustainability in the 21st Century – From Forest to Mill

This month, our undercover reporter speaks with Simon Jeffreys, Gould’s in-house Environmental Officer. He gives us the lowdown on why paper sustainability is so important, and why Gould considers it a vital part of their process.

Simon Jeffreys

Hi Simon, let's start with the basics. What is forest management, and why is it so important?

Sustainable forest management is the environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of forests for present and future generations. This approach has been likened to a three-legged stool – if one of the legs (social, economic and environmental) is absent then the stool falls over.

Responsible forest management can deliver a raft of benefits without depleting resources. Wood -the basic output from forests - can be used in so many ways: structures, heat and paper for example, and can be recycled or broken down naturally back to its constituent parts.

Exploitation or, worst of all, deforestation, destroys the virtuous circle.

How and where are the trees grown and tended?

In the UK, most productive forests are located in upland areas where land is available at an economic price, with good availability of moisture (lots of rain!) As most of the UK was deforested in pursuit of development, nearly all of our productive forests are now of plantation origin using the exotic conifer species selected specifically for their suitability for the UK.

Plantation forestry works on a cycle of planting, establishment, thinning (the removal of a small proportion of the crop to improve access and give space for the remaining trees) and concludes with felling before restarting the cycle. A move is developing to manage forests on a ‘closer-to- nature’ basis where trees are regularly thinned, with the space then being filled by natural regeneration from falling tree seed, which avoids the clear fell and restock phase, but this cannot be applied in all circumstances.

I have read that "Mechanised harvesting is quite dramatic" - can it be a dangerous profession?

Manual felling with chainsaws is a dangerous occupation and it’s increasingly difficult to recruit operators. Mechanised harvesting, where a tree is severed at ground level, picked up, debranched and cut to length, takes out the need for many chainsaw operators and allows felling to be undertaken in a safer environment. The resulting produce is collected by a forwarder with a hydraulic grab placing material in bunks that can be driven out of the forest to a roadside stack ready for collection by haulier.

The forest industry is still one of the most dangerous sectors in which to work in the UK and this is something the industry is working hard to address. In the five years up to March 2012, there was an average of 10.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers. This is more than three times the fatality rate for the construction industry.

How important is sustainability to Gould, and how does the business ensure an ethical approach?

Sustainability is central to Gould’s operation. The demand is high for sustainably-produced paper, and we won’t accept anything less. This drives responsible forest management which in turn allows plantations to yield the many benefits of sustainable forestry, including the stabilisation of carbon dioxide levels, habitat creation, employment, recreation and water interception.

As we buy and sell paper, Gould holds the Chain of Custody Certification from both PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) which allows traceability of certified paper from responsibly managed forests and controlled sources down the supply chain to the end user.

Is digital really greener than paper?

At first glance, the answer to this question looks straight forward, as not printing a document clearly saves resources. However, storing a document electronically is not without appreciable costs in terms of energy and resources. Running data centres to host cloud servers, hardware obsolescence and upgrading all present considerable recycling and waste challenges.

Need an e-document? Buy a PC, get cabled up to the internet, and sign up to a Cloud service.

Need more paper? It’s quite simple. Recycle your waste paper, and grow more trees!