The silver bullet has become a metaphor for a simple, almost magical solution to a vexing problem. While silver bullets may be handy to fight werewolves, most real-world challenges are complex, requiring multiple solutions. In those cases, the search for a silver bullet can delay meaningful action.
Take deforestation, for example. Every year, the world loses nearly 75 million acres of forest — an area the size of Minnesota with South Carolina added for good measure. Sadly, there is no silver bullet to stop deforestation.
But we know how to make progress on the issue. While governments play an important role, companies and consumers are leading the efforts to stop deforestation today.
For example, last year Target announced a new policy for the forest products it buys and sells. Included in its policy is a commitment to avoid forest products that are illegal, from areas with high conservation values or from deforestation. While these public commitments may seem common sense, they represent the exception rather than the norm.
The simple truth is that illegal logging is huge business, and much of it drives deforestation.
Interpol estimates that as much as 30 percent of all timber traded globally may be illegal, representing as much as $150 billion annually. Many of these products end up in the United States, the world’s largest consumer of forest products. For example, in 2016 flooring giant Lumber Liquidators was sentenced by the U.S. Justice Department to pay more than $13 million in fines for importing illegally logged timber from Russia.Compounding the challenge, deforestation is not always illegal, even in the United States. In fact, in many places deforestation is considered progress — whether to create a new housing development or plantation for palm oil that ends up in our shampoo, candy bars or bread.
Once again, companies are leading the way with pledges to avoid products from deforestation. Such actions have been taken by McDonald’s, General Mills, Costco and Wal-Mart. On their own, deforestation-free pledges are inadequate, but as part of a suite of actions they represent an important step in the right direction.
While it is good to avoid products from deforestation, the simple fact is that people use forest products every day. The whole solution can’t just be about saying “no.” When forests are responsibly managed, they offer a sustainable supply of products while also protecting the myriad ecological and social values as well.
By buying products from certified responsibly managed forests, companies and consumers can play an important role in preventing deforestation.
Is this the whole solution to the problem, requiring us to move “beyond certification”? Of course not. There are no singular solutions, but the path forward is still very clear: Stop trade in illegal products. Avoid products from deforestation. Choose products from certified responsibly managed forests.
By following these steps — as Kimberly-Clark, Procter & Gamble, Williams-Sonoma and many others are doing — companies can play an important role in combatting deforestation. And consumers can choose from a growing number of products that are deforestation-free.
Too often, the search for panaceas risks thwarting meaningful progress. In reality, most intractable challenges facing the world require multiple solutions in parallel. Thankfully, a growing number of companies are leading the way, moving with a sense of urgency to tackle deforestation, even without a silver bullet.