Published on 7 November 2019

Responsible Wood Director, Australian representative and judge at the World Architecture Festival Mark Thomson was invited to present to the 2019 SFI Annual Conference in Richmond, Virginia…

Responsible Wood Director Mark Thomson presented to the SFI Annual Conference in Richmond, Virginia


Covered by Mark Thomson, Responsible Wood Director

My first sign of a unique conference experience appeared, when I checked into the Conference Hotel.

The Reception issued hotel key card  had an colourful image of a log cross section and the caption ‘better choices for the planet’. 

I have never seen a hotel key card produced from chain of custody certified paper stock and to my surprise…. it actually opened my room door.!

Later collecting my Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) conference folder, I read the bold statement ‘the actions we take today determine the future of our forests.’

The ‘Forests of Opportunity’ conference is one of the best conference experiences I’ve ever had (and God knows I’ve attended my fair share of industry conferences over the years!).

Held over 3 days and attended by 350 delegates, the program was packed with a diverse range of speakers and a positive atmosphere of information sharing.

Chief Anne Richardson, the first Rappahannock Tribe female chief, provided a informative welcome to Country and Kathy Abusow SFI CEO and President, welcomed all including students from 13 Universities who were warmly introduced as Future Forest Leaders.

I then began to understand the strength of the SFI Mission ‘to advance sustainability through forest focussed collaborations’ as surrounding me, were attendees representing conservation groups. community partners, indigenous leaders, educators, youth mentors, researchers, forest product customers and forresters from across the USA and Canada.

The launch of SFI’s new strategic direction and alignment to focus on addressing global sustainability challenges, meant that conference topics were varied.

Many explored how forests can play a central role in addressing climate change, supporting a circular economy, mitigating the oceans plastics crisis and encouraging green buildings.

This future focus created an imperative of challenges however a positive ‘can do’ attitude prevailed with great encouragement for green jobs, forest education, new technologies, innovative fibre solutions and conservation programs in forests.

All presentations were interesting, however some stood out more in their showcasing innovation and leadership. 

Geneva based Luis Rocharte, Director Forest Solutions Group from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development spoke about renewable materials for the bio economy.

He explained the importance of a thriving forest sector that sustains healthy productive forests and peoples’ wellbeing for the future of our planet.

Principal of the Shelton Group, Suzanne Shelton explained how corporate brands desire meaningful partnerships with solution providers from the forest sector.

Conservation outcomes are often a by-product of well managed forests and collaboration with science guided conservation actions are possible across multiple land uses and ownerships.

I was pleased to relay the Australian ‘Responsible Wood’ story and explain how the Australia Development and Construction sectors are progressing significant engineered timber and CLT (Cross laminated Timber) projects.

I cited Brisbane’s 25 King street project, Sydneys’ International House project (2018 World Architecture Festival Best Certified Timber Prize Winner) and the Macquarie University Incubator Project.

At a different scale, I demonstrated Australian Architectural innovation by Architectus, delivering the Macquarie Incubator Project as a project ‘designed for deconstruction’ and modular, hybrid prefabricated buildings by Guitar Buildings, Michael Leo.

Next years SFI Conference in October 2020 at Vancouver Canada, will be something to look forward to and I’m hopeful that a strong Australian contingent may be able to participate in another great Sustainable Forestry Industry conference.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative is a North American ‘forest certification standard’ and program of SFI Inc., a non-profit organization. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative is the world’s largest single forest certification standard by area. The SFI is headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario Canada and Washington D.C. For more information about The Sustainable Forest Initative please visit the SFI Program website.

For more information about Responsible Wood and the Australian Standard for Sustainable Forest Management (AS 4708) please visit the Responsible Wood website.