In 2021, we may have still been dealing with the tumultuous COVID-19 pandemic alongside a plethora of persistent issues impacting our planet, people, and ultimately, future. However, not everything was bad, and in fact, there was quite a bit of good that came out of 2021.

One of the biggest wins in 2021 for the World Wildlife Fund was starting a program called Forests Forward. This is an innovative corporate program for WWF that engages companies around the world to help them reduce their forest footprint and support other on-the-ground actions—like forest restoration—to keep forests thriving for people, nature, and climate.

“Forests Forward gives companies opportunities to scale up action on forests and confront some of the biggest threats facing our planet today. And these actions are not one-off solutions. They drive real, lasting change that makes a tangible difference in people’s lives and the health of our natural world.” Kerry Cesareo, WWF Senior Vice President, Forests

The Forests Forward program focuses on three main pillars for engagement:

  • Landscape Opportunities for Nature, Climate, and Communities. For companies seeking to enhance the health of forests, contribute to climate solutions, and improve community well-being, WWF provides unique opportunities to support rigorous nature-based solutions in critically important forest landscapes around the world to deliver these benefits. Examples of these landscapes include Brazil’s Atlantic Forest; Sabah, Malaysia; and the southeastern United States; among others.
  • Responsible Supply Chains for the Future. WWF helps businesses design and implement responsible supply chain strategies for companies with product or packaging sourcing that can impact forests.
  • Improved Forest Management. WWF works with businesses that manage forests to implement strategies that boost those forests’ ability to sustain biodiversity, benefit global climate, and support local communities.

The Forests Forward program offers an interactive map where you can see the actions WWF and companies within the Forests Forward program are taking.

Before the Forests Forward program began in June 2021, WWF ran the Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) for more than two decades. The Forests Forward program builds on the successes of GFTN and offers additional opportunities for corporations to continue their successes. Beyond this, Forests Forward engages a broader network of companies through a variety of sectors, including those outside the timber, pulp, and paper sectors.

Since it began, five of the world’s foremost companies have signed on as Forests Forward participants in the United States. They include HP Inc.; International Paper Company; Kimberly-Clark; Lowe’s Companies, Inc.; and Williams-Sonoma, Inc. Beyond companies in the United States, there have been a variety of international entities signing on like IKEA.

“Science matters. Planting trees alone is not enough to meet our Vision 2030 commitments to the health of forests or climate. We’re excited to be a part of Forests Forward to deepen our understanding and practice of integrating science into our decision-making and to implement solutions that deliver positive results for people and the planet.” Sophie Beckham, Chief Sustainability Officer, International Paper Company

Forests Forward offers regular access to WWF scientific experts, peer-to-peer interactions, and opportunities to learn about important forest issues and support public policies that benefit forests. Not only is this program having direct impacts on the forests themselves, but a key pillar is to continue our mission of spreading education and ensuring that our forests and beyond will be protected for years to come.

There has never been a more urgent time to protect our forests. From timber, fuel, and fiber to stabilizing our climate and water supplies, to providing habitats for more than half of the world’s land-based species, the resources and services forests provide are invaluable – but undervalued.

Linda Walker, the Senior Director of Corporate Engagement for Forests at World Wildlife Fund said, “They’re [forests are] disappearing at an alarming rate. In 2019 alone, the tropics lost more than 29 million acres of tree cover. That’s close to 30 soccer fields’ worth of trees every single minute. It’s time for innovative, collaborative programs that are backed by cutting-edge science and rooted in local communities to protect our forests and all who rely on them.”

Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest surrounding the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Land, in September 2020

© Andre Dib / WWF-Brazil
Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest surrounding the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Land, in September 2020

It is imperative that the approach to protecting our forests is all-encompassing. WWF wants to ensure that communities are being positively impacted and included in decision-making processes that impact their backyards. This is a collaborative approach between communities, WWF experts, and corporations desiring to do good. Communities who are knowledgeable of the area, WWF experts who are knowledgeable about the science and best practices, and corporations who have the capacity and scale will come together to create decisions that protect the forests and safeguard the future. The new Forests Forward program is central to WWF’s mission to stop deforestation and forest degradation and protect biodiversity while promoting sustainable livelihoods.

Beyond this, the Forests Forward program opens up opportunities for tourism and deeper relationships within communities. In 2018, WWF worked with the Busongora Joint Farmers Association (BJFA) whose members live adjacent to Rwenzori Mountains National Park in Uganda. With the support of WWF, the European Union, and the French Facility for Global Environment, this community implemented a local-led tour called the Rwenzori coffee experience that brought tourism into the area, provided direct education to them, all while protecting the community’s most valuable resource: the environment around them.

“Communities are beginning to appreciate that even when one has a corner shop on a tourism route, they will also benefit and that it all depends on the protection of the resource that the tourists are coming for.” Isaac Masereka, a local tourist guide and member of BJFA

As the Forests Forward program begins to grow in recognition, scale, and ultimately, impact, WWF hopes to bring 25 corporations together by 2025. The aim is to influence more than 370 million acres of forests by 2030. But this is just the beginning.