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Empowering better decisions for biodiversity

Today is Earth Day. When this annual campaign began in 1970, biodiversity was already in decline. Now, nearly 50 years on, growing global demand is putting even more pressure on eco-systems.
Today is Earth Day. When this annual campaign began in 1970, biodiversity was already in decline. Now, nearly 50 years on, growing global demand is putting even more pressure on eco-systems

Responsible forestry can play an important role in reversing this trend by maintaining or even enhancing biodiversity. Indeed, it’s integral to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15 to protect life on land. But the current practice for life-cycle assessment (LCA) – widely used to measure environmental impacts and inform decision making – does not adequately recognise this role.

That’s why in October 2018 we brought together industry peers and multi-disciplinary experts to explore this issue in Gimo, at the heart of a majestic forest in Sweden. The resulting Gimo Recommendations are designed to empower decision makers by offering a useful tool to better recognise responsible forest land management techniques in LCA.  

The role of responsible forestry

Responsible forest management can be seen as balancing the use of forests as a resource while maintaining the essential eco-system services and habitat they provide.

Responsibly managed forests offer a broad range of environmental benefits. They provide natural habitats, promote biodiversity, protect water sources and contribute to global efforts to tackle climate change by acting as a carbon sink. The renewable, bio-based materials they produce can also support a circular economy and reduce the world’s dependence on fossil resources.

Forest-based materials make up 70-80% of SIG beverage carton packs on average. We source these from responsible sources and use Forest Stewardship CouncilTM (FSCTM - SIG FSCTM trademark licence code: FSCTM C020428) certification to demonstrate this.

FSC-certified forestry operations must meet a wide range of requirements on environmental and social criteria, including conserving biodiversity. They must not harvest more trees than are permanently sustained, and they must maintain, restore or enhance ecological functions and values, including water resources, soils and fragile ecosystems. As a result, they can maintain or even enhance habitat and species diversity, but this role is not adequately recognised in current LCA practice.

The value of LCA

LCA is the only methodology to take into account a product’s impacts across its life-cycle and across a broad range of environmental aspects. It facilitates smart decision-making to reduce the overall impact of a product system on the environment, rather than focusing only on a single stage of the lifecycle (such as manufacturing) or a single impact (such as climate) which could miss bigger impacts or trade-offs elsewhere.

We conduct LCAs in line with the international ISO 14040 standard to help us identify and measure the environmental impacts of our products, and show how they compare with alternative types of packaging. We use the results to help us focus on our products’ biggest impacts – and drive progress towards our ambition to put more into society and the environment than we take out.

Recognising responsible forestry in LCA

The main strength of LCA is to identify more resource efficient alternatives with a smaller environmental impact. This works well for calculating climate impacts, for example, because if you use less energy from fossil fuels this will result in a smaller contribution to global warming.

But taking the same approach for land encourages more intensive land use – using less land to produce the same yield. For forestry, this could lead to a paradox because intensive forestry practices are associated with higher environmental impacts compared with managing larger areas more responsibly.

LCA land use methods are available to distinguish different intensity classes for forestry, but do not differentiate on the quality of forest management. The current LCA practice overemphasises forestry activities applied on a plot or ‘stand’ level where trees are harvested without looking at the broader landscape which, in responsibly managed forests, include measures such as areas of set aside and buffer zones for protected habits.

By taking a landscape perspective that looks at the wider area of managed forest, responsible land management approaches that are designed to maintain biodiversity can be accounted for in LCAs. This would then enable more informed decisions that better factor in biodiversity impacts.

Driving better decision-making

Through the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE), we partnered with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Life Cycle Initiative and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to explore how LCA can better address biodiversity.

We ran a workshop for international experts in forestry, ecosystem science and LCA in Gimo, Sweden, which included a forest visit to study responsible forest management in situ. By the end of the three-day workshop, joint recommendations had been signed by almost all participants. These build on existing guidance from UNEP and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC), as well as the ISO 14040 standard on LCA.

The Gimo Recommendations offer guidance on how LCA modelling can better recognise the biodviersity benefits of responsible forestry. The recommendations are designed to inform decision-makers, including academics, NGOs, policy-makers and industry, to drive decisions across the value chain that restore and protect biodiversity – and contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15 to protect life on land.

This initiative supports our ambition to go Way Beyond Good by partnering to create a net positive food supply system that will nourish a growing global population while putting more into society and the environment than it takes out.

Find out more about our approach and performance in our latest Corporate Responsibility Report.

SIG FSCTM trademark licence code: FSCTM C020428