Sustainable forests work to address climate change

When managed sustainably, working forests actually help slow climate change through carbon sequestration and long-term carbon storage.


The United Nations have highlighted sustainably managed forests as a principle strategy to help limit global warming to a level that can assure the health of the planet.

Cleaning Carbon from the Air

In the United States, in particular, working forests serve as a substantial carbon sink. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they store more than 14.8 million tons of carbon a year in trees and wood products. That’s equivalent to offsetting about 16% of fossil fuel emissions annually.

Sustainably managed forests absorb large amounts of carbon because active forest management maintains rapid growth and overall forest health. Most forests that remain unmanaged will ultimately reach a point of carbon saturation meaning the amount of carbon they can hold maxes out.

Providing Building Materials with Lower Emissions

Using wood products from sustainably managed forests for construction generates lower emissions than using steel or concrete. According to one international study published in the Environmental Science & Policy journal, every ton of wood used in construction represents avoided carbon emissions equivalent to 3.9 tons of carbon dioxide.

Setting Sustainability Standards

How do you know whether a given forest product comes from a sustainable forest? Look for a product label that certifies sourcing and chain of custody to sustainability standards. One organization that provides such certification is the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). SFI’s Standards advance sustainable forestry and responsible purchasing globally through certification standards and certified products.

SFI recently awarded a research grant to Michigan State University (MSU) to assess how certification to SFI directly supports the carbon benefits of sustainable forests. Findings showed:

Close alignment between certification standards and core activities in the discipline of forest carbon management

A consistent approach to forest carbon planning on working lands

Built-in training, education, and communications networks with national and local forestry professionals

According to lead researcher Lauren Cooper, academic specialist in the forest carbon curriculum at MSU, “Within the domestic forests of the United States and Canada, certification has provided an avenue for increased knowledge distribution, implementation of best practices, and setting the framework for an improved ability to incorporate climate-smart forest management and utilization.”

Cooper is using the findings to inform a learning module for forest landowners, conservationists, and forestry students. Helping students, and the public, understand that sustainability certification can help assure a positive climate future may help people to make positive choices in the marketplace.