Healthy Forests Mean a Healthy Future for All of Us

03/22/2015 02:00 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2015 via Getty Images

In observance of March 21, the United Nations' International Day of Forests, let's commit to doing more to advance practical, results-oriented solutions that will ensure healthy forests for future generations while supporting the people and communities who depend on them today. This is the message from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in the State of the World's Forests 2014. The report's subtitle, "Enhancing the socioeconomic benefits from forests," highlights the connections between forests and people.

The report doesn't pull any punches when it addresses the need to balance what we need from forests and what forests need from us: "To avoid significantly degrading this resource [forests], more efficient production techniques must be adopted."

Data in the report paints a compelling picture of how much we all rely on forests. About 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods, including 2,000 indigenous groups. In fact, income from the forest industry totals more than $600 billion and accounts for about 0.9 percent of the global economy. Moreover, globally, forest products contribute to shelter for 1.3 billion people, or 18 percent of households.

In the U.S. alone, data from The Conservation Fund shows that forests create 2.4 million jobs, generate $87 billion in payroll, lead to $223 billion in sales and add $102 billion to GDP. This includes harvesting trees for paper and timber products and using forests for sport and recreation. Their environmental impact also is immense: forests offset CO2 emissions by 12 percent and are the source of more than half of the U.S. drinking water supply.

In Canada, almost two-thirds of the population receives their drinking water from sources that originate in forests, according to the Canadian Forest Service. About a quarter million Canadians are directly employed in the forest sector, and it adds almost $20 billion to the country's GDP.

Given the vital contribution of forests to our economy, environment and well-being, it is staggering to think of the threats they face globally. According to UN data, deforestation continues at an alarming rate, with 32 million acres, or 13 million hectares, of forest destroyed annually. Deforestation accounts for 12 to 20 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

Tackling these problems is up to all of us. Forest certification standards are one approach that is making a difference. Born 20 years ago, these standards let consumers know that the products they buy come from responsibly managed forests that protect wildlife, biodiversity and water quality. Forest certification standards help provide this vital link between responsible purchasing and healthy forests. Consumers can also look for labels to help them choose responsibly sourced wood, paper and packaging products.

Undeniably, certification is having a positive impact on forest health. Yet, the best standards today must be more than just standards. They should advance scientific research, conservation partnerships and community building. I'm proud of the impact my organization and others are making. SFI's more than 250 million acres of responsibly managed forests provide a living laboratory that show how healthy forests can deliver environmental, economic and social benefits.

Since 1995, SFI program participants have invested more than $1.4 billion in sustainable forestry research. Over the last five years, SFI's Conservation and Community Partnership Grants to organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, the American Bird Conservancy, the Longleaf Alliance and others have made available more than $1.9 million to foster research and pilot efforts to better inform future decisions about our forests.

SFI also works at a grassroots community level to encourage the spread of sustainable forestry. We have partnerships with a diverse group of organizations that share a common interest sustainability. Our partners include Habitat for Humanity, the Greening of Detroit, Boy Scouts of America, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

We know that the best guarantee of long-term success is to work collaboratively with all stakeholders -- conservation groups, local communities, resource professionals, landowners and countless other organizations and individuals who share our passion for and commitment to responsible forest management.

Forests benefit the world, and each of us, every day in countless ways that are all too easy to overlook. On this year's International Day of Forests, let's make a promise to do more to ensure healthy, productive forests for future generations.