What is sustainable forestry?

Sustainable forest management techniques balance environmental, social and economic needs

Faith Sayo

Faith Sayo

14 May, 2024

What is sustainable forestry?

Forests are a cornerstone of global environmental health. They play an important role in regulating atmospheric gasses, maintaining biodiversity, and providing essential resources.

However, the needs of growing populations and development are straining forests. Deforestation is a major threat, with a

about 10 million hectares

lost annually. This, combined with wildfires impacting an additional 70 million hectares each year, necessitates innovative solutions in sustainable forestry.

The question now stands: how can we utilise the benefits of the forests while ensuring their health and resilience for generations to come?

Sustainable Forest Management

(SFM) or

sustainable forestry

is a key strategy for ensuring the continued ecological and economic benefits provided by forests.

What is sustainable forestry?

Tree planting in Ragia Forest

Tree planting in Ragia Forest

Sustainable forestry

is the management of forests in a way that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. It's about striking a balance between using forest resources and ensuring their long-term health. 

SFM recognises the value of forests as complex ecosystems that provide us with timber, clean water, healthy soil and irreplaceable wildlife habitat.

Let's explore:

  • The core principles of sustainable forestry

  • Sustainable forestry methods

  • Benefits of sustainable forestry management

  • Examples of sustainable forestry initiatives

Principles of sustainable forestry management

Scolel'te-Arbol de caoba en parcela reforestada (1).JPG

Scolel'te restoration project in Mexico

Sustainable forestry is built on a foundation of three key principles:

  • Ecological sustainability: This involves maintaining the biodiversity, productivity, and resilience of the forest ecosystem. Practices like selective harvesting, minimising soil disturbance, and controlling pests and diseases help achieve this.

  • Economic sustainability: Sustainable forestry ensures the long-term economic viability of forests. This means harvesting trees at a rate that allows for natural regeneration and exploring alternative sources of income, such as ecotourism or non-timber forest products like nuts and fruits.

  • Social sustainability: Sustainable forestry recognises the rights and needs of local communities who depend on forests for their livelihoods and cultural practices. It involves fair labour practices, respecting indigenous rights, and involving communities in forest management decisions.

The most sustainable forestry methods and techniques

Photo from Eden Reforestation Partners mangrove regeneration project

Photo from Eden's mangrove regeneration project

Here are the

key pillars of sustainable forest management


  • Selective logging: This involves harvesting only mature trees of specific species, leaving a healthy mix of younger trees and other vegetation untouched. This allows for the forest to regenerate naturally and maintain its biodiversity.

  • Replanting: Following selective logging or natural disturbances like wildfires, replanting trees ensures a continuous forest cover. This can involve planting native species suited to the specific ecosystem.

  • Regeneration: Sustainable forestry plans ensure harvested areas are replanted with native tree species. This promotes a healthy and resilient forest for future generations.

  • Forest preservation: Setting aside areas of forest for complete protection allows natural ecosystems to thrive undisturbed. These protected areas serve as vital reservoirs of biodiversity and provide crucial habitat for wildlife.

  • Prescribed burning: Controlled fires, under careful supervision, can mimic natural fire cycles and benefit forest health. Prescribed burns can reduce the risk of uncontrollable wildfires, clear brush and undergrowth that can compete with young trees for resources and promote the germination of certain fire-dependent plant species.

  • Reduced-Impact Logging (RIL) Techniques: These methods minimise the environmental impact of harvesting trees, such as using specialised equipment and planning logging roads to minimise soil disturbance.

  • Maintaining riparian buffers: Leaving strips of vegetation untouched along waterways helps protect water quality by filtering runoff and preventing erosion. Riparian buffers also provide habitat for wildlife that depend on healthy stream ecosystems.

  • Long-term management plans: Developing and adhering to comprehensive forest management plans ensures a holistic approach to forest health. These plans consider factors like timber harvesting, replanting schedules, wildlife habitat protection, and potential environmental impacts.

The benefits of sustainable forestry


TIST India tree planting

Sustainable forest Management is a multifaceted concept because it takes into account the

four pillars of sustainability

- economic, social, cultural and environmental. These practices work together to ensure healthy forests for future generations in several ways:

  • Maintaining biodiversity: Sustainable forestry fosters a diverse range of plant and animal life within the forest. This diversity creates a more resilient ecosystem that can better withstand diseases, pests, and environmental changes.

  • Soil health: By minimising soil disturbance and promoting natural regeneration, sustainable forestry practices protect the quality of the soil. This ensures healthy conditions for trees to grow and supports other vital ecosystem functions.

  • Carbon sequestration: Healthy forests

  • Forest health: This involves practices like selective harvesting, which removes mature trees while allowing younger trees to grow, and controlling pests and diseases to minimize damage to the ecosystem.

  • Respecting local communities: Sustainable forestry recognises the rights and needs of people who live in and around forests. It often involves collaboration with local communities to ensure forestry practices benefit them as well.

Examples of sustainable forestry initiatives

TIST India tree planting

TIST India tree planting

Forest initiatives are critical because they combat deforestation, a major threat to our planet's health. These projects not only protect vital ecosystems but also empower communities, paving the way for a sustainable future.

For example, the

TIST Agroforestry Project in Kenya

. This initiative equips subsistence farmers with the knowledge and resources to plant native trees on their land, improving soil health, boosting biodiversity and generating carbon revenue.

Another example is

the Luckaitztal Climate Project in Germany

. The project focuses on transforming a vulnerable coniferous forest into a more climate-resilient ecosystem. By planting diverse tree species and promoting natural regeneration, the project aims to create a healthier forest that can better withstand storms and other climate-related challenges.

These are just a few examples of the diverse and impactful forest initiatives Earthly supports. 

How to support sustainable forestry

A forest in Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico, where the Scolel'te project is located

A forest in Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico, where the Scolel'te project is located

Businesses have a significant role to play in ensuring the future health of our forests. Here's how companies can become champions of sustainable forest management:

Investing in innovation

Businesses can drive innovation towards a more sustainable future. Support research and development of alternative materials and practices, like recycled materials, bamboo, or fast-growing, non-forest tree species, to reduce reliance on virgin forest resources.

This not only benefits the environment but also cultivates a future-proof supply chain.

Transparency and communication

Consumers are increasingly conscious of the environmental impact of their purchases. Businesses committed to SFM can gain a competitive edge by being transparent about their supply chains.

Publicly communicate your commitment to sourcing from sustainable sources and showcase efforts towards responsible forestry practices without



Building trust with customers fosters brand loyalty and positions the company as a leader in environmental responsibility.

Invest in nature-based solutions through Earthly

Looking beyond immediate sourcing, businesses can broaden their impact by supporting initiatives that promote healthy forests.

Nature-based solutions

, like forest restoration projects, habitat conservation efforts, or programs that incentivise sustainable land management practices, work with nature for long-term benefits. By investing in these solutions, businesses go beyond simply minimisiing their footprint and actively contribute to a thriving forest ecosystem.

Earthly helps businesses invest in nature. Our nature-based solutions empower you to balance your impact and go beyond carbon, actively reversing climate breakdown.

Through Earthly, you can purchase carbon credits, buy biodiversity units, plant trees, or support innovative nature projects around the world.


investing in these solutions

, you contribute to a healthier planet and sustainable forest ecosystems.