Want to help reduce the climate crisis and create a more livable New England? Join the Forest-to-Cities Climate Challenge
Writing by Jennifer Shakun, Frank Lowenstein and Tinsley Hunsdorfer.
New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) is pleased to announce the official launch of its Forest-to-Cities Climate Challenge, NEFF’s newest initiative and a key component of our climate program. The initiative is an explicitly cooperative undertaking that calls on humanity’s ability to enact change through collective movements.
Throughout this past winter and spring, NEFF staff members refined the Challenge and laid the groundwork for its launch by soliciting feedback from key stakeholders, speaking about the initiative at conventions, and developing a striking and easy-to-use website. If you would rather skip straight to exploring the website, you can visit it at foresttocities.org
Now that all of the pieces are in place and NEFF can fully unveil the Forest-to-Cities Climate Challenge, we hope participants find it an exciting and motivating way to band together and face the climate crisis head-on.
There’s a lot to recommend tall buildings made with mass timber, and their positive impact on climate, urban development and the economy only increases when the mass timber is engineered from sustainably grown and regionally sourced wood. Although common in Europe, such buildings are still in the early stages of market acceptance here in the United States, with relatively small numbers built or under construction. That’s where NEFF comes in. The Forest-to-Cities Climate Challenge is designed to break down barriers to mass timber construction and raise awareness of its advantages so that more of these buildings are constructed, and are also eventually made from New England wood.
It also seeks to build an integrated carbon value chain, not just a supply chain based on dollars. By securing carbon in both forests and in buildings, the Challenge seeks to maximize the contributions of New England forests and wood buildings in solving the climate crisis.
The Challenge asks stakeholders—from the forests where the wood is grown to the cities where people will live in tall wood buildings—to voice unified support by signing a simple pledge. The pledge articulates how we can use New England’s forests and mass timber construction to grow, build, and live in a way that combats climate change and benefits both rural and urban communities:
We support using New England’s forests and building with wood to fight climate change. Please count on us to be part of a community of interest—from our forests to our cities—that is committed to maximizing the climate benefits of forests and wood construction. We pledge to support sustainable mass timber as a climate solution because it is a win for the forest, a win for the rural economy, a win for urban quality of life, and a win for the planet’s health.
The Big Picture
NEFF’s ultimate goal is to help shape an economic system that links mass timber buildings in New England with the local forests that sustainably generate the wood for them.
At NEFF, mitigating and adapting to climate change is part of our organizational mission, and NEFF’s work to conserve New England’s forests and ensure their outstanding management has already contributed to a minor degree to abating the severity of the climate crisis. Society as a whole, however, has been slow to respond to scientific warnings that began in the late 1800s. Although by 1992 the nations of the world, including the United States, had committed to “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere” in the landmark UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, emissions continue to rise and half of all carbon dioxide emissions ever released were produced in just the last 30 years.
Climate change is a deeply systemic problem—the toughest kind to solve. It is related to everything from how we use land and grow our food to how we power our industries, build our cities, and travel for work and pleasure. Solutions that recognize how our natural, economic, and socio-political systems are interconnected are the only way to tackle a problem of this scale.
And this idea is at the heart of the Forest-to-Cities Climate Challenge—an effort to connect our forests to our cities and move the needle on climate change by bringing together a diverse coalition of people who are committed to building a more sustainable future for New England, a future built with wood from our region’s forests. The initiative will accelerate the work we have done over the last five years through our Build It With Wood program to promote the use of engineered wood products made from sustainably harvested timber as a climate solution.
Each segment of the supply chain has a unique role to play in helping bring this vision to reality—landowners and foresters can commit to practicing climate-friendly forestry, architects can educate clients about the aesthetic and environmental benefits of mass timber, and policy-makers can develop incentives that will drive the use of more sustainable construction materials. NEFF is working to foster a community among the growing group of people who have signed the Forest-to-Cities pledge to identify the common actions that will place sustainably-sourced mass timber at the heart of hundreds of new construction projects in our region.
What makes the Forest-to-Cities approach so promising is that it addresses the environmental, economic, and socio-political aspects of the problem in front of us. It is a solution that will boost rural forest-based economies by creating new markets for local wood; it will also boost urban and suburban areas by creating a more cost-effective way to build mid-rise housing, thereby helping to maintain affordability for families and ensuring that employers can find the workers they need. It is a solution that promotes management of working forests to both produce locally-grown, renewable wood and to maintain high levels of carbon in a vibrant self-renewing forest, and that recognizes the need for ecological reserves as well. And, perhaps most importantly, it is a solution that links rural and urban communities in a positive way that unites constituents who often feel they don’t have many interests in common with each other.
The key to developing solutions to climate change is recognizing interconnections. We can’t have truly climate-friendly wood products for construction without a local wood supply, because shipping in wood from a world away involves high transportation emissions and hidden environmental costs. Likewise, we can’t have climate-friendly wood products without ensuring that they come from well-managed forests that continue to store carbon and provide other forest ecosystem services like clean air and water. We can’t practice good forestry without forestland conservation because an ever-more developed and fragmented landscape makes harvesting logistically and financially impossible. Nor can we have policies that incentivize low-carbon construction without the necessary political support, which means that rural and urban constituencies need to see a positive future for themselves in the Forest-to-Cities landscape.
Tackling the challenge of climate change will require participation and cooperation across all sectors of society, and the Forest-to-Cities Climate Challenge is a powerful opportunity to unite stakeholders toward a common goal. More than 65 individuals and organizations have already signed the pledge, including landowners, foresters, architects, engineers, and other supporters. With our new Forest-to-Cities website, we are poised to grow the ranks quickly. Everyone who is inspired by this vision is invited to sign the pledge and help us spread the word. Together we can push forward a promising climate change solution for New England that leverages one of our most precious assets as a region—our forests—to combat one of the world’s biggest challenges—a changing climate.