This year, we have all been challenged and affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has changed our approach to personal safety and illustrated the resilient spirit of people – especially those within forest products industry, who have become even more essential throughout this crisis.
Our industry continues to supply products of need every day — things like tissue products, toilet paper, paper towels and corrugated boxes. And as 2020 comes to a close, I am thankful for the approximately 950,000 people of the forest products industry who have safely and reliably gone to work throughout this pandemic. You are on the front lines supporting a supply chain that produces essential paper and wood products that are also sustainable and innovative by design.
The pandemic has also brought economic and political uncertainty. We continue to face economic headwinds, and we are learning a lot from the recent election, but above all, what it has shown is that every person and vote counts.
This year, we’ve also seen devastating natural disasters, including Hurricanes Laura, Marco, Delta and Zeta, which have impacted Louisiana this year. The powerful Category 4 winds of Hurricane Laura alone resulted in damage to more than 750,000 acres of timberland, totaling more than $1.1 billion to the state’s forest economy.
The work of the Louisiana Forestry Association and its members immediately after these storms, including the formation of a Forest Recovery Task Force to assess the impact of Louisiana families, employees, mills and forestry resources, proved vital and essential to the state’s recovery. It’s also further proof that our industry can stay resilient and ready to respond during a crisis.
While we face many uncertainties on the road ahead, it’s reaffirming to see how our industry has responded during these unprecedented times. Throughout these immense challenges, your resiliency has reinforced your resolve, working to keep people safe while also supporting local communities in need.
Earlier this spring, at the onset of the pandemic, the forest products industry was there to help, donating personal protective equipment to healthcare workers and supplying boxes to food banks to transport and ship food to people in need.
I believe the most remarkable attribute of our industry is its people. We are an industry of people filled with big, generous hearts. When a neighbor needs help, we step up. When we see inequity, injustice, or unfairness, we speak up. Because we know that our industry and our communities can’t thrive if some are left behind. Our industry is filled with amazing opportunities. For instance, we offer family-wage jobs producing essential and sustainable products. And these opportunities, in turn, can offer people and many communities strength, and a sense of purpose.
So, let’s continue to rise to every challenge — whether it is a goal we set for ourselves or an obstacle we face together. We are an industry that is constantly innovating, learning, and reaching new limits of possibility. Our supply chain is inherently circular, and each person along the value chain plays an important role.
Take for instance our sustainability work. The paper and wood products industry was among the first manufacturing industries in the United States to take voluntary action on sustainability efforts, which include goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water use, increase energy efficiency and the paper recycling rate, and improve worker safety and sustainable forestry.
These goals, known as Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 initiative, recognize the three essential pillars of sustainability – economic, environmental and social – that collectively support long-term viability, growth, and improvement, and it’s work we’ll continue to build on as we establish new goals that will guide us to 2030.
We also recognize that forests provide the renewable resources needed to make paper and wood products that provide a multitude of environmental benefits, including clean air and water, for future generations. To create a brighter future today, we need to now turn our industry’s resolve into action. Each of us can be an advocacy leader for our industry. I deeply value the partnership we have with our engaged, on-the-ground partners — like the Louisiana Forestry Association, and it truly makes a difference.
Lawmakers, whether on Capitol Hill or in Baton Rouge, value hearing from constituents — people who are directly impacted by policy. They want to learn about how issues directly affect them. I am convinced that your personal engagement is needed now more than ever. Get to know your lawmakers, learn how public policy might impact you or your business, write letters, attend town hall meetings and participate in other civic engagements.
Let’s recognize that every voice has value, whether it’s a regulatory battle, a policy debate, or a moment of crisis that requires us to act. As we work together to stay active and engaged, we encourage you to stay connected with us at the American Forest & Paper Association.
Your advocacy leadership will help define our future. And especially in these uncertain times, your willingness to show up and be heard has never been more essential.
(Heidi Brock is president and CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association in Washington, DC. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)