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Atlanta Companies Can Fight Climate Change and Help Georgia’s Rural Economy

Fernbank, forest Fernbank Forest has been designated by the Old-Growth Tree Network. File/Credit: Fernbank

Deron Davis, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy in Georgia

Georgia’s iconic forestlands are vital to the state’s economy and quality of life. These forests benefit us all by filtering air and water, harboring wildlife, and boosting local economies through the creation of jobs and domestically produced forest products.  They also play a role in fighting climate change by storing carbon, the most commonly produced greenhouse gas. 

The business community is increasingly taking action to address its climate impact, with a clear eye on the potential long-term benefits to corporate reputations, financial bottom lines, and social responsibility. Corporate change is often driven by investors, employees, and customers advocating for corporations to reduce their carbon footprints. For example, Amazon’s $100 million commitment to restore and protect forests, wetlands, and grasslands in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, is part of the company’s efforts to become carbon neutral by 2040 —10 years ahead of the 2050 target outlined in the Paris climate agreement. Many corporations are already relying on carbon credits— tradeable permits created by projects that store, capture or eliminate carbon emissions—to offset the carbon dioxide they create in the course of business and many more are looking to those credits to help them balance their carbon footprint. 

The forest industry’s economic impact on Georgia is significant. In 2018, it supported 148,414 jobs and contributed approximately $36.3 billion in economic impact, according to the Georgia Forestry Commission. With more than 22 million acres of privately-owned forestland across the state, The Nature Conservancy in Georgia plans to launch a Working Woodlands program to provide corporations based here the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets and support local forest economies at the same time. 

Begun several years ago as a pilot project in Pennsylvania, Working Woodlands offers participating landowners a number of benefits, including quantifying and increasing the carbon-capturing capacity of their trees. The goal is to help landowners generate sustainable income from their properties so the land can remain forested and continue to capture carbon into the future. 

Working with a global consulting firm and a steering committee of partners, including the Georgia Forestry Association and the Georgia Forestry Commission, the Conservancy set out to understand the forest landscape and the landowner perspective. Although Working Woodlands has been successful in other states, it is critically important to understand and work within Georgia’s unique ecological, culture and political conditions. The consulting firm also conducted detailed mapping analyses to identify potentially suitable properties.

With support from key donors, the program will launch in 2020 on a limited scale with a couple of landowners while The Nature Conservancy continues to secure support to manage and grow the program. This process has shown us a way forward to use Georgia’s existing resources to help address climate change. The longstanding relationships and extensive infrastructure that already exist to connect, inform and support forest landowners will be instrumental in building and sustaining the Working Woodlands program. 

In the face of urgent climate conditions and a challenging economic environment, Working Woodlands has the potential to be a win-win for businesses, private landowners, and the people and wildlife of Georgia for generations to come.


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