What Is a Sustainable Forest?

Written by TerraPass


If you care about the environment, then you probably already know why forests are so crucial to the health of our planet. They help preserve precious ecological systems and are one of the best natural ways to help remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. [1] The problem is, forests around the world are under attack, and deforestation is happening at an alarming rate—depleting the forests the world so desperately needs to thrive. [2] One way people are fighting back to help preserve forests is through the support of sustainable forest management. Sustainable forests focus on ways to balance three main areas of forestry—ecological, economic, and socio-cultural. This three-tiered approach protects the natural beauty of a forest all while allowing for recreational and industrial activities to move forward with proper guidance and oversight. By allowing these various needs to be addressed, forests are better preserved and protected now and for many years to come. [3]

Why Is It Important to Support Sustainable Forests?

Governments, corporations, and individuals around the world support different sustainable forest efforts and organizations. While everyone may have different motives for their support, it is clear that sustainable forests are critical for the planet’s future—increasing demand for sustainable forest management. Forests are a vital asset to the people and places where they are located and they provide billions of dollars in potential benefits. [4] Other advantages of a sustainable forest include the following: [5]

Increased Economic Development

Several studies have shown measurable economic growth for forests that have been independently certified as sustainable by independent third parties such as the Forest Stewardship Certification (FSC) program. Implementation of these practices helps increase economic potential, promote regeneration of valuable trees, and create additional economic opportunities for local communities and their residents. [6] Consumer-demand for certified products that come from sustainable forests, like wood based products, soil, timber, nuts, fruits, and oils, is also growing—increasing the economic potential even further. [7]

Expanded Recreational Activities

Many sustainable forest projects also encourage outdoor recreational activities. Well-maintained forests provide a myriad of opportunities for people to hike, ski, hunt, fish, raft, and more. These activities help people gain respect for the forest and get individuals invested in their future. Additionally, these activities can help provide income opportunities to surrounding areas which can be reinvested into forest management. [8]

Greater Air Quality

There are many ways in which a well-managed forest can provide better air. They help reduce pollutants and things like CO2—helping make the air safer to breathe. Forests can also provide an incredible opportunity for people living in urban environments that are inundated with smog to get out and enjoy the clean, crisp air which a forest can provide. [9]

Improved Water Quality

Forests are vital to the water supply of many nearby populations. A forest’s root system acts as a filter, slowly absorbing and releasing rainwater back into nearby streams, lakes, and other water sources. This process helps provide fresh drinking water that countless people rely on. Sustainable forestry management helps ensure forests can continue to perform this vital function. [10]

Healthier Trees & Plant Life

Sustainable forest management often takes a holistic approach to plant life. The goal is to create an ecosystem that is good for the trees, wildlife, and industry. As a result, each area may require a different approach to meet these objectives. However, the outcome is typically a thriving ecosystem of trees and other plants that work together to provide maximum benefit for each other. [11]

Enhanced Biodiversity

Healthy forests provide an opportunity for incredible biodiversity. Forests all around the world have interconnected webs of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. These networks, both seen and unseen, are what ultimately provide clean water and air we all depend on for our health and the environment. [12]

What Makes a Forest Sustainable?

Put simply, when a forest is sustainable, it will be around for years to come—making it an ideal place for people, animals, and plants to live, work, and play. Different locations may require different approaches to make this dream a reality. Sustainability also means that the needs of the forest and surrounding communities are considered. However, sustainability does not mean the forest is left alone. In fact, many sustainable development programs work with industries to help manage the forest and provide the greatest possible benefit for everyone and everything involved. These efforts include ways to harvest forest resources responsibly and regulate illegal logging.

Principles of Sustainable Forest Management

There are different countries, organizations, and governing bodies that have set forth guidelines for sustainability. In general, each focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues. One good example is the Pan-European criteria which we have listed below. [13]

  1. Maintenance and Appropriate Enhancement of Forest Resources and their Contribution to Global Carbon Cycles
  2. Maintenance of Forest Ecosystem Health and Vitality
  3. Maintenance and Encouragement of Productive Functions of Forests (Wood and Non-Wood)
  4. Maintenance, Conservation and Appropriate Enhancement of Biological Diversity in Forest Ecosystems
  5. Maintenance and Appropriate Enhancement of Protective Functions in Forest Management (notably soil and water)
  6. Maintenance of other socio-economic functions and conditions

Do Trees Help Reduce Air Pollution?

Preserving forests is vital to curbing global warming and stopping climate change. This is because the world’s forests are responsible for absorbing a third of annual fossil-fuel emissions—that is about 2.4 billion tonnes of carbon each and every year. As forests work to produce oxygen and help remove pollutants from the air, we all benefit from cleaner air to breathe. [14]

Which Are the Best Trees for the Environment?

There are many ways in which trees are good for the environment. However, the best trees will depend on the area. Those certified in sustainable forest management will take other plants and wildlife into consideration when selecting the right trees for their environment. Below are several trees that are well-known for their ability to absorb CO2 and reduce air pollution. [15]

  • Silver Maple
  • Yellow Poplar
  • London Plane
  • American Sweetgum
  • Blue Spruce
  • Pines

Ways You Can Help Promote Sustainable Forests

If you feel passionate about sustainable forests, then you may be asking yourself how you can help support them. Luckily there are several ways anyone can promote sustainable forests, including:

  • Volunteering for local forestry services, organizations, and nonprofits.
  • Shopping wood and other products that have been sustainably sourced from certified forests.
  • Purchasing carbon offsets from sustainable forest efforts to reduce your carbon footprint.

Join Us in Supporting Sustainable Forest Efforts

When you purchase carbon offsets from terrapass, we are able to fund crucial sustainability projects across North America. These include projects like the community forest in Arcata, California. This forest is certified to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) management standards and absorbs and stores approximately 2,500 more metric tons of CO2 a year than neighboring forests. If you want to support projects like this sustainable forest, consider becoming carbon neutral for your next big event or trip by purchasing carbon offsets from terrapass. Get started now, and calculate your impact with our free carbon footprint calculator.


  1. Forests Absorb Carbon Dioxide – Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) – Northern Research Station – USDA Forest Service, www.nrs.fs.fed.us/niacs/forests/.
  2. “Deforestation and Its Extreme Effect on Global Warming.” Scientific American, 13 Nov. 2012, www.scientificamerican.com/article/deforestation-and-global-warming/.
  3. Principles of Sustainable Tropical Forest Management, www.fao.org/3/w8212e/w8212e04.htm.
  4. “How Much Are Forests Worth?” American Forests, 18 Aug. 2016, www.americanforests.org/blog/much-forests-worth/.
  5. “The Benefits of Sustainable Forestry.” Georgia Forestry Association.
  6. Wolosin, Michael, et al. Forest Interventions with Economic Returns. https://www.climateadvisers.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/2012-11-Forest-Interventions-with-Economic-Returns.pdf.
  7. Tavares, Carla. “Forests for All Forever: Driving Consumer Demand for Sustainability Through Meaningful Marketing.” Sustainable Brands, 24 Aug. 2016, sustainablebrands.com/read/collaboration-cocreation/forests-for-all-forever-driving-consumer-demand-for-sustainability-through-meaningful-marketing.
  8. “New England Forests: The Path to Sustainability.” New England Forestry Foundation. https://newenglandforestry.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Path-To-Sustainability.pdf.
  9. “US Forest Service Finds Global Forests Absorb One-Third of Carbon Emissions Annually.” US Forest Service Finds Global Forests Absorb One-Third of Carbon Emissions Annually | US Forest Service, www.fs.fed.us/news/releases/us-forest-service-finds-global-forests-absorb-one-third-carbon-emissions-annually.
  10. Fletcher, Katie, and Todd Gartner. “3 Surprising Ways Water Depends on Healthy Forests.” World Resources Institute, 26 Sept. 2018, www.wri.org/blog/2017/03/3-surprising-ways-water-depends-healthy-forests.
  11. Conserve and Enhance Biodiversity and Strucural and Functional Complexity of Forests – Sustaining Forests – Northern Research Station – USDA Forest Service, www.nrs.fs.fed.us/sustaining_forests/conserve_enhance/biodiversity/.
  12. “Forest Habitat.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund, www.worldwildlife.org/habitats/forest-habitat.
  13. “REPORT OF THE MCPFE OPEN-ENDED AD-HOC WORKING GROUP ON ‘SUSTAINABILITY CRITERIA’ FOR FOREST BIOMASS PRODUCTION, INCLUDING BIOENERGY .” MCPFE Working Group. https://www.foresteurope.org/docs/work_programmes/MCPFEWGsustainabilitycriteriaFinalreport.pdf.
  14. “Forests Absorb One Third of Fossil Fuel Emissions, Study Finds.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 10 Aug. 2011, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110810093835.htm.
  15. American Arborists. “What Trees Are Best Suited for the Changing Climate?” American Arborists, 13 Feb. 2019, www.americanarborists.net/tree-tips/2017/july/what-trees-are-best-suited-for-the-changing-clim/.

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