We're all becoming accustomed to the idea that every product and activity has a carbon footprint. But many products, including bonsai plants, furniture, firewood, ash trees and Christmas decorations, have in the past had a different sort of footprint, one that also could pose a problem for your company's sustainability profile.
A wide variety of products we import and transport can carry non-native insects and diseases that kill trees in U.S. forests, cities, and suburbs. In this decade alone, non-native pests have caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage by quietly killing more than 25 million North American trees. Well over 7 billion trees are at risk, and scientists and economists estimate that ultimate damage to the economy from just two of the many pests we already have imported could exceed $700 billion. Does that number sound familiar?
According to ecologist Gary Lovett and his colleagues at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, invasive forest insects and diseases will cause greater changes in many North American forests than climate change or acid rain in the next several decades. In a resolution sponsored by the mayors of Anchorage, New York, Chicago, Sacramento, Seattle, Ann Arbor and Honolulu, the U.S. Conference of Mayors recently called for greater attention on the threat and renewed efforts to prevent devastating impacts on cities and towns.
RILA members have at least a three-fold stake in the issue. First, the pests have the potential to increase costs. Inspections at ports can result in delays of shipments or even their confiscation, disrupting just-in-time supply chains. State and federal regulations to prevent pest movement can make items in existing inventory unsalable overnight.
Second the potential for retailers to accidentally help pests to reach new areas--where they then impact customers' backyards and communities--poses a significant reputational risk.
Finally, by joining with diverse partners in a proactive effort to address the threat, retailers can reduce these financial and reputational risks and garner positive publicity at the same time.
The Continental Dialogue on Non-Native Forest Insects and Diseases is the only multi-stakeholder group working collaboratively to avert the threat of invasive pests to our nation's trees. In its two-year lifetime our group has helped develop and promote broad-based consensus positions on federal regulations governing live plant imports and domestic pallet movement, and has developed a web-based campaign to reduce citizen movement of firewood, which has proved a major source of new infestations (see www.dontmovefirewood.org). Dialogue participants of the group have also joined together to seek improvements in federal efforts to address the pests.
The Continental Dialogue steering committee includes representation from the wood products industry, nursery industry, academic institutions, environmental and conservation groups, trade associations and relevant state agencies. Large retailers have participated in the annual meetings at which the group shapes its agenda, and we would welcome more such participation. Meetings are professionally facilitated by RESOLVE.