Forests are the green lungs of the planet, absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, and they provide vital habits for an incredible array of biodiversity. Yet over the last half-century, we have lost about half of the world’s original forest cover, mostly because of our unsustainable exploitation of forests’ many resources. Now, ICA Housing, the sector of the International Co-operative Alliance established to promote the development of cooperative housing around the world, has launched the Sustainable Management Forest Initiative for the 2012 International Year of Cooperatives.

When ICA Housing held a symposium on cooperative responses to climate change in 2010, it heard from the Borneo Initiative, a non-profit that promotes the responsible management of Indonesian forests. The organization challenged ICA Housing members to make a commitment to use only timber from sustainably managed forests. When the ICA General Assembly was held in 2011, a resolution was passed by a huge majority of ICA delegates, committing to using only FSC or PEFC certified timber and other forest products in the construction and renovation of cooperative housing.

FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes) are the two largest international forest certification programs, ensuring that timber and other products come from well-managed forests, in which logging is balanced by regeneration and growth, harvesting is done in a way that minimizes waste and damage and wildlife habitats are protected to preserve biodiversity. Sustainable forest management also prevents illegal logging and respects the communities that live within forests.

The housing industry is a major consumer of natural resources, and timber frame housing represents approximately 70% of total housing stock. Globally, housing cooperatives manage approximately 20 million dwellings, with 10% of Europe’s population living in housing cooperatives. These housing cooperatives will now be putting their values and principles into action, using only sustainable certified timber and other forest products in their new buildings and for their repair and maintenance.