A Conversation with Scott Francisco on a new NY State Bill & tropical deforestation
Regenerative Placemaking Demonstration Series
by: Alexandra J Tohme
As the world faces complex environmental challenges so interlinked to production and consumption, the conversation around deforestation has gained significant momentum. Future of Cities sat down with Scott Francisco, the founder and director of Pilot Projects Collaborative and co-founder of Cities4Forests, to discuss the New York State Tropical Deforestation Free Procurement Act, the main causes of deforestation, our consumer choices, and how cities can actively engage with forests and forest communities for a regenerative future.
Our conversations began in Switzerland, at a small conference called the Klosters Forum that brought together built environment practitioners, designers, architects and academics in a collaborative setting high up in the mountains outside of Zurich.
As Future of Cities connected with new strategic partners, I decided to follow up on a post that caught my attention on Scott’s LinkedIn, about the New York Bill S 4859.
Interviewing Scott gave me insight into a fascinating market and unique global network connecting indigenous and local family-run forest harvesting communities — to major cities. From Guatemala to Gabon, Mexico and the US — there are regenerative practices being implemented to offer timber as a low-carbon substitute for construction and architecture, while supporting the biodiversity and forest restoration of tropical landscapes.
The discussion in this article seeks to bring light to the cross-sector cutting issue of tropical forests — of prominent importance to demonstrate innovative solutions that hit many positive outcomes for people and the planet.
Long-term relationships are being built across borders and continents — connecting rainforest communities with scientists, architects and city-planners. We hope the new New York State Bill takes this into account.
Scott Francisco’s 30+ year career and passion for Wood and Forests
Scott Francisco introduced himself as an architect with a deep passion for wood as a construction material. He remembers how his undergraduate thesis involved creating an all- plywood house, a concept seeming bizarre at the time in the 1990s but foreshadowing the current excitement for mass timber buildings.
His love for wood led him to consider the larger role of forests in urban development: Can we use wood as a low carbon substitute for concrete and steel, and at the same time protect larger areas of forest from deforestation? Think of a park bench or office building made of wood, instead of concrete, and the forest supplying the timber given a secure future as a result. This opens many possibilities for other architecture & construction using wood to become investors in the future of forests and cities.
He co-founded Cities4Forests, a global network of cities working towards integrating forests into their climate action plans.
The New York State Tropical Deforestation Free Procurement Act: Explained
Francisco dove into the New York State Tropical Deforestation Free Procurement Act, a bill aimed at curbing deforestation’s negative impacts. The bill prohibits government procurement contracts from including any products associated with deforestation. However, there was a crucial issue — the bill treated all tropical timber equally, regardless of its source or regenerative practices. Poor timber management practices, including illegal and high intensity logging and some monoculture industrial timber plantations, do drive deforestation in many tropical forests. But it’s not the whole story.
“The main drivers of deforestation are the industrial-scale production of beef, soy and palm oil,” said Francisco, primarily in tropical regions, highlighting the growing global commodity and demand for palm oil over the past 15 years, which has resulted in large areas deforested in Indonesia. Beef and soy are similarly destructive in the Amazon.
We at Future of Cities are big advocates and practitioners of biodiverse, small-scale family farming, social forestry, regenerative soil agriculture. The way in which we grow our products and crops deeply affects so many other areas of our lives, health and the planet.
Conservation Timber: A Sustainable Alternative by Local Communities
Scott explained the concept of “conservation timber,” wood harvested sustainably in low volumes from community-managed forests. This approach offers local communities an alternative to deforestation while ensuring biodiversity conservation.
As we focus on regenerative placemaking solutions at FOC — it is so powerful to learn about these methods that allow the forest to regenerate, through active community engagement.
Recognizing and promoting conservation timber and other forest products by local communities is critical for healthy ecologies and economies.
Thousands of families rely on a sustainable harvest of timber as their primary livelihood, to support their children and communities. It didn’t seem right or logical to draft a bill that blanket-prohibits all kinds of timber in government contracts regardless of whether or not they are good for the communities and the forest, or what the outcomes will be.
He suggested an amendment to the Bill that specifically states criteria based on management practices that maintain healthy biodiversity, and are economically productive so that those same communities have an alternative to having their forest completely cut down.
One example of such a definition for this criteria could be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, the broadest and most robust global certification program for timber. FSC certified timber could be a requirement that is added and adjusted in this Bill.
He emphasizes that we can look at timber harvest the same way you would for chocolate or coffee production — two wonderful commodities that also come from tropical forests. There are two ways to harvest: clearcut monoculture that destroys biodiversity and nature-based livelihoods, or regenerative models that rely on shade and rich biodiversity and therefore keep forest landscapes intact.
Imagine if the State of New York decided to purchase only shade-grown bird friendly coffee for government employees that comes from these biodiverse landscapes?
“Just like coffee can be terrible or wonderful for a forest landscape, so can timber be terrible or wonderful.” Francisco said, his passion clear throughout his thoughtful analyses.
Advocacy at NYC Climate Week + A Guidebook for Developers
“So what can we do?” I inquired, asking about the tools for advocacy and awareness to protect these indigenous-model systems of local and regenerative forestation for construction and urban development. While this bill is still sitting with the governor, he encourages people to engage in constructive discussion and connect to government representatives, notably with NYC Climate Week coming up next week. He encourages engagement with his LinkedIn post, welcoming comments, revisions and feedback to the points he outlined in a letter to the Governor.
Francisco has also co-created useful tools such as the Forest Footprint for Cities, which helps cities track their tropical forest (and climate) impact, and invites us all to check on our cities and use data tools like this in our work, education, and policy advocacy.
Pilot Projects has developed a Sustainable Wood for Cities — a detailed guide for city governments, and private sector group (architects, engineers, developers) to evaluate the sustainability of their wood options, the source and production process, “we call them pathways that can guide you towards higher level of sustainability in your wood choice.”
It’s free to use and anyone can access it at citywoodguide.com
Francisco and I ended the conversation recognizing the value of activating a positive relationship between the rural and urban landscapes to mutually support each other:
“We have to activate cities to be proactive with their rural counterparts.”
To conclude with an excerpt from Scott Francisco’s message:
“Time, science (and satellite photos!) have clearly shown that management by local community residents is the best way to ensure that these forests are intact and healthy decades and centuries later. The businesses that these communities create keep the brightest, most dedicated young people working in these forests, and allows for generational knowledge-transfer over the long term.”
Major conservation organizations like Wildlife Conservation Society, Rainforest Alliance, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, U.S. Forest Service, USAID, The Nature Conservancy, and hundreds more, support community-led conservation timber enterprises.
We hope that the great State of New York will too.
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Get in touch with Scott Francisco: email@example.com to learn more about tropical forests and forest communities around the world and follow @partnerforestprogram and @cities4forests.