Debbie Hammel - NRDC: Georgia-Pacific Conservation Initiative - Interview

Senior resource specialist within the Land Program with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Debbie Hammel was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about the conservation initiative established by forest products company Georgia-Pacific and a number of environmental organizations including NRDC.

Thanks to Debbie Hammel for her time, and for her informative and comprehensive responses to the questions. They are greatly appreciated.

Georgia-Pacific along with several leading conservation groups has announced that it will no longer purchase trees from Endangered Forests and Special Areas, or from new pine plantations established at the expense of natural hardwood forests. What does this announcement mean?

Debbie Hammel - NRDC: This means increased protection for more natural hardwood forests throughout the Southeast. Georgia-Pacific will no longer purchase pine harvested from plantations that could replace more than 90 million designated acres of natural hardwood forests. By taking this action, the company is doing its part to decrease the conversion of natural hardwood forests into industrial pine plantations – a trend that has significantly harmed the ecological values of natural forests in the region. The company has also agreed not to purchase timber harvested from 11 endangered and special areas in the Mid-Atlantic Eco Region, increasing protection for some of the region's most prized natural places. This commitment will be expanded to all of the areas that Georgia Pacific purchases timber from over the next few years.

What groups were involved in this historic announcement? What was the background to arranging this conservation initiative between the many conservation groups and Georgia-Pacific?

Debbie Hammel - NRDC: Georgia-Pacific worked in consultation with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Dogwood Alliance and Rainforest Action Network for more than six years to develop this policy. Georgia-Pacific approached the conservation groups for input and environmental expertise on how they could expand their forest policy to increase protection for natural forests.

How is Georgia-Pacific protecting such endangered species as the South's natural hardwood forests?

Debbie Hammel - NRDC: Increased consumer demand for sustainably sourced products, paired with new mapping technologies, have allowed Georgia-Pacific and other companies to make ecologically sound decisions such as this without sacrificing profitability. Now more than ever, doing right by the environment makes good business sense.

How will this announcement protect hardwood forests and slow the conversion of forests to pine plantations?

Debbie Hammel - NRDC: This announcement will provide an incentive to landowners to harvest timber sustainably. Likewise, it will not reward those landowners who choose to convert natural forests to pine plantations.

What are some of the environmental problems that are associated with pine plantations that will be reduced as a result of this historic initiative?

Debbie Hammel - NRDC: There are myriad environmental problems associated with conversion of natural forests to pine plantations, including increased erosion, destroying habit for rare and endangered species, eliminating biodiversity, and -- perhaps most significantly -- eliminating vital carbon sinks and contributing to climate change.

Will this initiative help to protect endangered wildlife, improve habitat, and protect endangered wetlands?

Debbie Hammel - NRDC: Pine plantations are not forests. Rather, they are industrial row crops, unable to sustain the rich natural life that thrives in natural forests. The South is one of the most biologically diverse places in the world, to a great extent because of forest species. By keeping more natural forests intact, we protect the environmental integrity of the region, as well as the individual species -- many of them endangered -- which thrive there.

Does the conservation effort reflect a sea change in the corporate culture within Georgia-Pacific? How important is this shift in corporate culture and understanding of the environment for developing conservation programs with other corporations?

Debbie Hammel - NRDC: By making this policy statement, Georgia-Pacific is committing to making company-wide changes to increase protections for forests. This shift in corporate thinking toward more environmentally significant practices is of great significance, and is indicative of the changing marketplace – incorporating sustainability into the business calculation is now seen by companies as a necessary part of being responsive to their customers’ needs, and therefore, their bottom line. We anticipate that we will see more and more companies making significant moves toward more environmentally sound practices, as market pressures increase.

What is the future of forestry environmental protection as a result of this historic conservation effort?

Debbie Hammel - NRDC: As one of the largest purchasers of timber in the Southern U.S. – which is the largest timber producing region in the world – Georgia Pacific’s commitment will send a strong signal to the marketplace and have a significant impact on the practices currently employed in the region.

What is next for the Natural Resources Defense Council?

Debbie Hammel - NRDC: NRDC is committed to protecting critical forests in many different regions around the world. We depend on a variety of different tools to accomplish our work- from litigation to marketplace transformation. As we pursue the dual goals of forest protection and sustainable management, we will continue to look for opportunities to work with companies who share this same vision – in the U.S. South and more broadly.


Debbie Hammel - NRDC (photo left)

NRDC is the nation's most effective environmental action group, combining the grassroots power of 1.3 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals.

Since 1970 NRDC has been a strong advocate for, and defender of, the earth’s natural resources and public health. Over these nearly three decades NRDC has been a powerful catalyst for change and improvement of environmental policy in this country and internationally. NRDC’s vision is one of a sustainable world where human relationships with nature can be maintained indefinitely without causing the degradation of the biosphere. NRDC pursues this vision by designing policy solutions for genuine, lasting change—such as efficient energy use patterns and reduction of toxic wastes at the source—and putting them into place through advocacy, precedent-setting litigation, and direct negotiations with industry and government. NRDC has offices in New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Beijing.

Debbie Hammel has been with NRDC for nine years and is a senior resource specialist within the Land Program. Based in the San Francisco office, she works on issues related to bioenergy and sustainable forest management. She has more than 25 years of experience in designing third-party environmental certification systems, and is an internationally recognized expert on sustainable forest management, supply chain management and chain-of-custody certification.

Over the last five years, Debbie has focused her energy on private sector initiatives – harnessing the power of the marketplace – to protect the forests of the southern U.S. - one of the most biologically diverse temperate forests in the world and threatened by a variety of diverse pressures including the international pulp-and-paper industry, mountaintop removal coal mining, climate change, subdivision developments and the emerging bioenergy industry.

She holds a degree in Conservation of Resource Sciences from the University of California at Berkeley.

Tags: Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Georgia-Pacific, Debbie Hammel, business interviews.

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