The people who cry, ‘No timber harvesting’ are the same people who enjoy the benefits of using toilet paper every day. Let’s correct their misconceptions — one person at a time, if need be.

This blog summarizes a longer article written for the December issue of CWB. Feel free to weigh in with a comment.

For decades, the wood industry has taken it on the chin. A whole generation has adopted a mindset of doing everything it can to save a tree while ignoring other, more serious, environmental problems. With all these negative influences, one might think the wood industry will never be able to regain its good reputation. But we now have a chance to do it.

It is no secret that our growing global culture is concerned about climate change and, therefore, the emission of green house gases. In fact, recently the AIA (American Institute of Architects) launched a bold initiative called, “The AIA 2030 Challenge” which is, basically, to have zero carbon buildings by 2030.

It just so happens that wood is carbon negative — the only building material that is, in fact. (See a related article online here for details.) If AIA wants zero carbon buildings by 2030, our industry can help champion that effort by providing wood materials for the project.

As someone deeply committed to our industry, I believe it is all our jobs to help everyone understand that wood is carbon negative. The way I, personally, ended up approaching this task began when I got a postcard from Sierra Club inviting me to a meeting about starting a new Chapter of the organization in my town. I showed up, and here’s what happened:

Twenty people occupied a folding chair circle in someone’s home. Most were retired professors, teachers, business people, etc. All smart people. As the only employed person in the room, they wanted to know where I worked. When I mentioned the name of the large international lumber company I worked for, the reaction was, “Gasp! You’re at fault for all this deforestation!” with a lot of finger pointing.

I realized that if I didn’t say something to this group, that perception would persist. But where to start?

At the end of the meeting, I spent some time talking to a guy who mentioned his profession of photography and we ended up taking a nature walk together, during which I pointed out some interesting things about a tree. In wonderment, he admitted he had never noticed them. He took some pictures.

I also explained what a leaf does, why light and root protection are important, what bark does, different examples of geotropism, why we need tree crops, our gaining forestry acreage, etc. I took the opportunity to talk about the fact that we get more than 3 million products from trees and how they impact our lives in many ways.

In two hours, I changed the perspective of one person forever, without even making a speech at a podium or quoting technical data or reports. “Anyone can do this,” I thought. Next Sierra Club meeting would be different.

The following month, I sat next to my new friend. In conversation with the folks on either side, he showed a photo of a part of a tree that he took on the hike and mentioned a tree fact that he had found fascinating. That spurred a new conversation about trees and forestry among the four of us.

The next month, I talked to four more people about these things as they came up and within four months, the perspective of 20 people was changed from “alarmed and hysterical” to “well reasoned and insightful.” My company went from being the enemy to being the careful provider they couldn’t live without, in 10 minutes’ time and one cup of punch.

The point is, this is the easiest way we can all change mistaken public perceptions about our industry. You can find good information about our abundant and well-managed forests and how we rely on them at various Web sites. Twenty minutes of fact-finding is worth enough material for 25 casual conversations. Find a few interesting facts and use them in your conversations.

You don’t have to look far to find a nature or conservation group in your area. Their meetings and events are listed in newspapers, and you can also find them online. Look at your own interests and start there.

If each woodworking company in your state has a handful of employees who will spread knowledge in different environmental/outdoor/hunting clubs or green building chapters, eventually every person’s perspective in your state could change.

Join something this week and be amazed at the good you can do with very little effort. If you take such a step, share your stories here — or just share your comments and ideas. I look forward to your feedback.

Margaret Fisher
Market Development Manager
Saunders Wood Specialties
Park Falls, WI

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