SAINT JOHN – A New Brunswick environmental non-profit has helped keep 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and protected 1000 acres of mature forest in the province, thanks to the help of local and national businesses.
Sackville-based Community Forests International (CFI), an organization to connect to people to the forests that sustain them, has been working with businesses across Canada to help create custom plans to help them offset their corporate carbon emissions through sustainable forestry.
“It’s really wonderful because it helps us achieve our mission, but it also aligns with the companies that have those similar values of wanting to do something meaningful to mitigate climate change and climate catastrophe,” says Zachary Melanson, co-founder of CFI.
Businesses looking to create a custom carbon plan with CFI first start off with a carbon audit to calculate what exactly is the business’s carbon footprint. CFI can help smaller companies do this, while larger companies may choose to go with an outside consultant. The audit considers everything from energy usage, what types of external servers you use, to things like travel.
Once their exact carbon usage is determined, CFI works with the business to come up with a carbon plan that offsets its emissions through the organization’s forestry conservation efforts.
“We believe forests are carbon vacuums that have so many co-benefits and we aren’t really realizing them. We think that’s really high-quality offset that’s really valuable and really durable,” says Melanson. “We focus on forest and forest carbon offsets because there are so many added benefits that get layered on top of it. It’s not just a carbon credit. It’s also a habitat. It’s also flood prevention. It’s so much more.”
Instead of pure conservation, where the forest is not touched at all, CFI’s model is focused on sustainable harvesting.
“We protect these forests and we actually do sustainable harvesting in them. They remain productive parts of the landscape,” says Melanson. “Rural communities could still cut wood and we can all have wood products, but we don’t just clear cut all of the trees. We also maintain them has healthy ecosystems.”
An option CFI is currently piloting is saving parcels of land in the region from being clearcut. Melanson says there is only about five percent of the forest in New Brunswick and in the Maritimes that’s in pre-colonial conditions.
“Because of market forces, if they get sold, there is a 95 percent chance they will be clearcut,” says he says. “We intervene and purchase those properties and put them into sustainable management. How we go about that is with the support of businesses.”
For example, one of CFI’s larger clients is an architecture firm in Toronto. With their carbon offsetting plan, they were able to protect a parcel of forest outside of Sussex that was set to be clearcut. By doing this, the firm doesn’t just save enough trees to store its carbon emissions, it also helps the forest continue to grow and store even more through sustainable management.
“Through our partnership with them, they literally saved a very mature, very beautiful Acadian forest from being clearcut,” says Melanson. “It now stores their carbon and continues to store even more carbon we manage it. Through managing a forest, you can actually store more carbon than just leaving it as is.”
Though it’s CFI owning the woodlots for the pilot, Melanson says the long term goal to transfer this model to private woodlot owners across the Maritimes, providing them with a source of income. A lot of aging woodlot owners either face the choice of clearcutting the land or selling the land to someone who will for income. This could provide a sustainable alternative. Melanson says they have plans in the works with 10 woodlot owners throughout the Maritimes.
“One of the things I get most excited about with this work is that it’s a new pathway that makes sense for companies but also has so many co-benefits for the rural population here,” he says.
“This is giving [woodlot owners] a place in the future economy where they are really important to battling climate change. They’re managing forests to fight climate change. That’s a cool piece, and it’s really fundamental as to why we chose to go the route of carbon forestry.”
So far, CFI has helped seven companies build custom carbon offset projects to store their carbon emissions. In so doing, more than 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide have been kept out of the atmosphere and 1000 acres of mature forest has been protected. One of the New Brunswick company’s they’ve worked with is Saint John-based Hemmings House Pictures.
“We as a company have been really focused on social impact for the most part, and not educating ourselves too much on our environmental impact,” says Greg Hemmings, CEO of Hemmings House.
“We made assumptions that as a service-based company, our carbon emissions are relatively low, until I started to look at how much we travel by air, and we travel a lot.”
An intensive assessment found that Hemmings House was responsible for 400 tonnes of co2. Working with CFI, they helped the organization purchase a piece of forest for sustainable harvest. Hemmings House contributed $4,000, which was calculated to be enough to buy enough trees in the forest to offset their carbon emissions.
“They used that $4,000 to help purchase a massive plot of land that Hemmings House, as a company, is helping to protect,” says Hemmings. “As a result, we have a healthier ecosystem and we’re able to support the forest industry, but in a sustainable fashion, and we can offset our carbon.”
Hemmings says working CFI gives the company a way to offset its carbon footprint while making a positive impact at home.
“It’s a New Brunswick organization and it’s a New Brunswick impact,” he says. “It’s not like we’re buying carbon from someplace far away. We can drive 45 minutes to the plot of land that we’ve helped them purchase.”
CFI will be hosting an event in Saint John on Wednesday at ConnexionWorks so businesses can learn more about offsetting their emissions. Though progress with climate actions has been slow across Canada, Melanson says the region can be a leader in combating climate change through responsible forestry, given its unique landscape.
“We believe it’s an export opportunity in the low-carbon economy. We believe forests are the best way to store carbon. That’s literally what they do … but that’s not everywhere in the world, and the world is going to need these services,” says Melanson. “We see that the Acadian forests and the Maritimes could actually be a leader in the low-carbon economy when it comes to actually remove the CO2 that in the air right now and putting it back in the ground where it belongs.”
As a certified B Corporation, implementing a carbon offsetting program like this was a natural fit for Hemmings House. But Hemmings says such initiatives are important for all businesses, both financially and morally.
“Polluters are getting taxed heavily right now. If there’s a way to reduce your negative scores of how you’re showing up in the environment, that’s just a good balance sheet decision,” he says.
“But when it comes to our next generation, our kids, are they going to be proud of us if we are not doing our best? It’s our kids who are already way more enlightened about this than we are. I want my kids to be proud of the company that their dad built.”