Earthworm Foundation and Drax develop data-led approach to help ensure communities and climate benefit from working forests
Non-profit organisation Earthworm Foundation and energy company Drax Group have launched a new evidence-based approach to measure and evaluate the health of a forest, enabling the forestry industry to identify opportunities to support communities, biodiversity and tackle climate change.
The new tool, known as Healthy Forest Landscapes (HFL), will ensure that working forests continue to benefit the communities that depend on them, as well as the environment, amid increasing demand for sustainable wood products across a wide range of industries.
By using HFL, the forestry industry will be able to more accurately identify opportunities for positive interventions which support healthy forests and help to drive improvements across the sector.
Earthworm Foundation Senior Adviser on Forestry, Björn Roberts said: “We have a responsibility to preserve the health of our planet’s forests, and an opportunity to regenerate them. In doing this, we can contribute to tackling the climate and biodiversity crises and help ensure local communities’ rights and welfare are respected. The first pilot projects show where we need to refine the methodology, but they also indicate that the HFL approach is feasible and can help companies and local actors contribute to regeneration of these landscapes.”
The HFL approach assesses four key areas – forest cover, carbon stock, biodiversity and community wellbeing – the same priorities Drax focuses on in its own policy on sustainable biomass sourcing.
Richard Peberdy, Head of Sustainable Forests at Drax, said: “As a major user of sustainable biomass, Drax is committed to continuously raising standards across the industry to ensure the biomass we use makes a positive contribution to our climate, the environment and the communities in which we operate.
“The HFL tool provides a consistent framework for evaluating different types of forests in different regions and countries. It gives us a clearer picture of forest health and allows us to obtain the evidence that the forests we source from are replanted, continue to store carbon and remain biodiverse and healthy while sustaining jobs and other opportunities.”
The new HFL tool is important because it gives businesses like Drax the information needed to ensure its operations positively impact the forests where it sources its biomass.
HFL does this by measuring changes in the forest landscape using empirical evidence such as big data from government statistics, and input from remote sensing technologies, such as earth observation from satellites. HFL also uses an Earthworm-developed socio-economic evaluation methodology to assess community wellbeing.
Preliminary findings from the first pilot study at Drax’s Amite pellet plant in Mississippi show stable forest cover, carbon and biodiversity levels through the period 2010 to 2018, with a slight overall increase in total forested area, a marginal increase in the proportion under planted pine and slight decrease in the proportion under broadleaf forest.
The local communities are among the poorest in the US. A sample of local people interviewed by Earthworm cited lack of economic opportunity for young people, together with a perceived decline in education services, as their greatest concerns. A number referred to Drax’s Amite pellet mill as a rare example of job creation in the local forest sector.
The HFL programme builds on Earthworm Foundation’s successful work over the last twenty years to engage consumer goods brands and retailers with their upstream sourcing landscapes and promote responsible production of forest and agricultural commodities.
Earthworm Foundation is sharing the HFL methodology and early results from this Drax pilot project with companies that rely on supplies from the forestry sector, such as the pulp and paper and biomass industries, aiming to increase adoption of the new approach.