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29 Apr. 2021 | Comments (0)

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disparately large impact based not only on demographic characteristics (such as age, income, race and ethnicity), but also on communities living in close proximity to environmentally degraded areas that are high in pollution. It’s a further example of the link between human and environmental health.

This essay provides an inspiring report from the field in Brazil – a country particularly hard-hit by the pandemic -- on how a company and the institute it founded have been making a successful long-term commitment to both environmental and societal health in Brazil’s “other” forest.

While Brazil is typically associated with the Amazon Rainforest, the Atlantic Forest -- running along its coastline -- is another vast carbon sink rich in biodiversity. The Atlantic Forest, a National Heritage and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, is one of the world's most endangered tropical forests and the most degraded biome in Brazil – only 12.4 percent of its original area remains.

Suzano is a 90-year-old Brazilian company that manages over two-million hectares of land, a large portion of which are in the Atlantic Forest. Within the Atlantic Forest lies Neblinas Park: a 30,000 square mile conservation area in which Suzano hosted a meeting of The Conference Board Global CSR & Philanthropy Council.

In the 1950’s the steel industry cleared the area encompassing Neblinas Park of its native vegetation and replaced it with eucalyptus trees to produce charcoal for their production processes. In 1966, Suzano acquired the property and began managing the eucalyptus plantations to produce pulp and paper instead.

Later envisioning the area as a buffer zone for the urban growth of São Paulo, which could showcase and promote habitat restoration and environmental conservation through ecotourism and environmental education, Suzano founded the non-profit Ecofuturo Institute to manage the entire area as a sustainable use reserve. Since then, Ecofuturo has restored the Itatinga River and repopulated the Juçara Palm, a species endangered by the common farming practice of chopping it down to harvest its tasty heart-of-palm.

Ecofuturo’s focus on socioenvironmental responsibility extends beyond protecting the natural environment to its hiring practices; 85 percent of its employees hail from the surrounding area. In fact, some of its rangers, who are responsible for protecting the Park, used to be local poachers and woodsmen whose work contributed to environmental degradation of the area.

Ecofuturo relies on locals for procurement as well. For example, instead of bringing in caterers from São Paulo, they worked with a local food purveyor. Employing local women, the entrepreneur provides Neblinas Park catering services. Hearing her story while eating her delicious food, some of the ingredients for which were grown onsite, was a highlight of the Council’s visit.

Ecofuturo’s work over that past two decades has helped regenerate an environmentally degraded area into one of Brazil's largest private reserves of Atlantic Forest. They continue to add value by promoting restoration and environmental conservation strategies through their education programs, scientific research, sustainable forestry methods, ecotourism, and community involvement. In addition, they offer technical consultations to help owners of conservation areas, both public and private, restore ecosystems and protect native species.

Suzano and Ecofuturo’s work has made a profound difference in the south east region of Brazil and is acting as a catalyst for others to learn and join in preserving other areas. While forest degradation continues to be a big problem in Brazil and areas around the world, Suzano is a leader in the forestry industry responsibly providing products we need day to day. 

At a recent Conference Board gathering, a corporate director talked about the importance of moments of hope during a crisis. Suzano’s efforts offer not only hope, but a model for other companies seeking financial, social, and environmental sustainability.

  • About the Author:Jeff Hoffman

    Jeff Hoffman

    Jeff Hoffman is an accomplished corporate executive who has served on the global stage. Through board and commission leadership roles, he has a distinguished history working with business, non-profit,…

    Full Bio | More from Jeff Hoffman

     

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