Home improvement retailers can help save our forests

The Home Depot should ensure that its wood from the boreal and other forests is harvested sustainably; doing so may set a trend for others


Sammy Herdman

Former Save The Boreal Forest Campaign, Associate, Environment America

Cover photo credit: JLS photography, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


The world’s largest remaining intact forest, the boreal, is under siege. The boreal is a wild, seemingly boundless forest that wraps around the Northern Hemisphere. In Canada, the boreal, covered with spruce, firs and pines, encompasses over one billion acres—supporting threatened caribou herds, grizzly bears and billions of birds. It provides fresh drinking water to millions of people and absorbs enough carbon dioxide to offset the emissions of 24 million passenger vehicles. It is one of our greatest naturally-occurring climate solutions.

The Canadian boreal forest has provided the globe with high quality lumber, wood pulp and other forest-derived products for decades. In fact, one million acres of the boreal forest are cut down each year—the equivalent of one and a half football fields every minute. But now that there is a global consensus forming about the urgent importance of protecting primary forests for our climate and biodiversity, companies that source wood products from the boreal have an opportunity to protect it. 

Logging operation in the boreal forest. Photo credit: River Jordan, NRDC

Unfortunately, degradation in the boreal releases an average of 26 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. It’s been said that planting new trees can counteract the damage caused by logging. In fact, when forests are cut down and replanted, for more than 10 years they often emit more carbon than they capture. Furthermore, some species, such as woodland caribou, do not inhabit areas of disturbed boreal forest—even after newly-planted trees have emerged. Currently, disturbances in the boreal forest have endangered more than half of the iconic woodland caribou herds, which are a cornerstone of many Indigenous tribes’ cultures and histories.

As upsetting as the degradation in the boreal forest is, there is hope – innovations in the marketplace for paper and wood products have the potential to reduce logging altogether. Alternative materials and sources are becoming more available that can be used to manufacture items usually made from trees, such as paper goods made from recycled paper, bamboo, and hemp, and furniture made from reclaimed and refurbished wood.

However, until we implement better systems for recycling wood products, we will continue to rely on freshly harvested lumber. To ensure the health of forest ecosystems, species and the communities in the boreal, it is imperative that the lumber sold at home improvement retailers, such as The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menards and others, has been responsibly harvested.

Certifications, conferred by a third-party organization, are the only reliable method of verifying that wood products are produced responsibly. However, some certification schemes such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) are too lenient and do not provide adequate protection for forest ecosystems. According to environmental advocates from organizations like the Rainforest Action Network, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club, wood products certified by SFI should be avoided. Another common certification system, The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), should also be avoided because it is merely an umbrella organization that accepts the SFI standards.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the most reliable third-party certification program. Environmental organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund and National Wildlife Federation, have endorsed FSC. Wood products that carry an FSC logo are harvested following the certification’s 10 guiding principles, which include the conservation of the forest’s ecosystem, protecting rare and threatened species, their habitats and overall biological diversity and maintaining the wellbeing of local communities. The principles also require that companies can only develop Indigenous territory if given the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous and forest-dependent communities— a stipulation that ensures that the people most likely to be directly affected by logging activity are involved in making decisions about what happens to their land.

Caribou. Photo credit: Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, CC BY 2.0

The Home Depot is the world’s largest home improvement retailer with over 2,300 stores in North America. And although The Home Depot does not publicly disclose what percentage of its wood is FSC certified, it claims to “sell more FSC certified wood than any retailer in America.” However, until The Home Depot better tracks and discloses its wood sourcing, its impact on our forests remains uncertain. Lowe’s, on the other hand, tracks and discloses much of its wood sourcing data through a third party system: CDP forests. It is time for The Home Depot to follow suit. The Home Depot has the potential to lead the industry in protecting our climate, threatened species, and the communities that rely on our forests.

Photo Credit: Mike Mozart, CC BY 2.0

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Sammy Herdman

Former Save The Boreal Forest Campaign, Associate, Environment America