We help make our rural communities thriving places to work and live
WHAT IS THE CHALLENGE?
Most of our employees live in rural communities across North America where our mills, distribution centers, timberlands and other offices are located. These small towns are often built around a history of forestry and manufacturing as well as outdoor activities and experiences closely tied to forests.
Society at large benefits from thriving rural areas and landscapes because they are often crucial sources of water, food, energy and recreation for all people, no matter where they live.
In some rural areas, however, the barriers to economic and social prosperity can be difficult to overcome, particularly in communities that lack access to good job opportunities and are experiencing population declines and other demographic shifts. According to recent reports, the lasting negative effects of the Great Recession have disproportionately affected rural areas, and, additionally, there have been significant impacts on rural well-being due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A declining population in these areas is both the cause and effect of limited employment opportunities. Education, technology and infrastructure are often underfunded, especially for communities of color and other marginalized people, and rural communities often experience limited access to critical services such as healthcare and higher education.
WHAT IS OUR ROLE?
As a company with operations in many rural areas, we already play a significant role by providing family-wage jobs with opportunity for growth, a stable tax base, recreational access to our land and philanthropic support to local organizations. Our employees are also extremely active volunteers for causes they care about, and many are engaged in civic leadership or are otherwise part of the fabric of these communities.
At the same time, we are acutely aware of the challenges these communities face, and we are motivated to help ensure they remain great places to live, work and do business for decades to come.
We believe permanent and successful solutions will require a combination of national attention, resources and leadership combined with grassroots organization and engagement. Nobody is better equipped to chart a future for a community than the people living and working there every day, and we intend to leverage our resources and experience to participate in initiatives that support their priorities.
WHAT DO WE WANT TO ACHIEVE BY 2030?
By 2030, we envision real, measurable improvements in how we, and those we partner with, ensure rural communities are great places to live, work and do business. We view the health and vibrancy of our communities as integral to our long-term success as a company, and we expect to drive meaningful growth in how we engage with, invest in and otherwise support our operating areas.
WHERE ARE WE FOCUSED FOR PHASE 2?
While there is much we can accomplish over a decade, we have structured our long-term goals into three-year phases to effectively prioritize and accelerate progress. Our first phase was completed in 2022 and was marked by clear progress we will build on and momentum we will carry forward. During the second three-year phase of our 3 by 30 Sustainability Ambitions, we are shifting to focus our work in two key areas and measuring our progress toward specific actions:
1. Investing targeted resources to ensure our own rural communities are healthy and resilient
While we already have a robust corporate giving program that directly benefits our communities, we know we can do more to funnel our resources to the highest-priority issues in the areas where we operate. Additional information on this focus area will be announced in late 2023.
2. Leveraging our scale, voice and influence to help solve critical rural challenges through advocacy efforts
By partnering with government agencies, other companies, nonprofits and community leaders, we can amplify the needs of rural communities and ensure resources are directed toward the highest-impact areas.
Actions include: building broad support for our partner organizations; continuing to advocate for investment in broadband expansion; supporting our partner organizations’ state and federal funding requests; and aligning industry peers and trade associations on workforce development issues.
PHASE 2 ACCOMPLISHMENTS
During the second phase of our 3 by 30 Sustainability Ambitions, from 2023 to 2025, we are intentionally making fewer, but more strategic, investments of our time and resources. We will share our accomplishments and baseline measures in this space semi-annually.
FOUNDATIONAL SUCCESSES FROM PHASE 1 (2020 – 2022)
In this phase of our work to achieve our 3 by 30 Sustainability Ambitions, we laid the groundwork for meaningful progress toward our goals. We accomplished 70 percent of the action items we set out to achieve in the rural communities category; remaining actions were either rolled into Phase 2 or set aside in favor of more effective tactics.
Completed an in-depth evaluation of our rural communities’ landscape to determine strengths and opportunities.
In 2022, we conducted an analysis to uncover common themes and distinct needs in our rural operating areas. This work included a review of publicly available data, discussions with focus groups, and benchmarking industry and non-industry peers to understand best practices and other successful strategies. This assessment sets us up for targeted, influential investments, focused on the critical needs of rural communities.
Developed a comprehensive rural communities giving, advocacy and engagement strategy.
In 2021 we rolled out an annual education session with our regional employee-led Giving Fund Advisory Committees to ensure they have the tools and resources they need to effectively make local giving decisions.
We also established an internal taskforce focused on supporting our rural communities with participation from all businesses, local leadership and corporate functions. This team helped establish key priorities and ensured the perspectives of staff and business groups were included in the planning.
Launched our engagement with American Forests’ Tree Equity program.
In 2021 we formed a partnership with American Forests to develop tree planting and workforce development pilot programs in three of our rural or smaller urban communities. We held a planting event in Ruston, Louisiana, in conjunction with Louisiana Tech and a local urban forestry organization. In addition, teachers at Ruston High School are implementing a newly created curriculum focused on green careers and urban forestry, in which 200 students are participating.
We also worked with American Forests to bring its Tree Equity Score Analyzer to smaller urban and rural areas. American Forests is launching the beta Tree Equity Score Analyzer application in Ruston and will use it to calculate the impact from the planting event to demonstrate the tool’s applicability in other rural and small urban areas.
Expanded our partnership with Habitat for Humanity International.
We expanded our partnership with Habitat for Humanity International to support more than 10 local housing builds in or near our communities. Eight builds were completed in 2022: Lane County, Ore.; Cowlitz County, Wash.; Grays Harbor County, Wash.; Northern Louisiana; Central Oregon; Garland County, Ark.; Wilmington, N.C.; and Flathead Valley, Mont. Two additional builds — in Edmonton, Alberta, and Columbus, Miss. — will take place in 2023.
We participated in “Habitat on the Hill” advocacy for rural communities through our enhanced Habitat for Humanity partnership.