Mankind has actively modified the environment since the Stone Age. It started with grass-land and forest clearance, and accelerated with the introduction of agriculture and live-stock farming. Wood was used as fuel and to construct homes. In the modern era, the ex-ploitation of forests and connected natural resources have caused devastating effects for the environment. In the last fifty years, the tropical forest surface has been halved, from a global coverage of 14% to a mere 6% –equivalent to approximately 8-9 million km2 today. This might seem like a substantial area, but in 1947 it was an estimated 16 million km2. Today, the most affected forests are located in eastern Asia and the Pacific, including Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, New Caledonia, Borneo, Sumatra and the Philippines. Of the original tropical forest extension, made of mangroves and 15-metre tall trees, only 5% now re-mains. Even the South American Atlantic forest surface, which extends from Brazil to Ar-gentina, has been reduced by 85%. The problem does not just impact habitat variety and biodiversity: large-scale deforesta-tion has repercussions for local climates too. They are becoming progressively more arid due to a significant decrease in rainfall intensity and desertification. Furthermore, plant roots are like the veins and capillaries of the earth, providing an important structural ele-ment. This is why deforestation inevitably leads to soil erosion and major landslide risks. All in all, deforestation is one of the most critical factors responsible for the rise of global temperatures. Several reports by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have affirmed that, after the use of fossil fuels, deforestation of large green areas is the most important human activity connected to global warming. Plants also produce energy and constituent elements by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and the ground, trans-forming some of the greenhouse gases – which contribute to the planet’s temperature increase – into the air we breathe. There is some good news, however. Over the last century, the forests in Europe have started to regrow. This is due to several factors: wood is no longer a key fuel in industry and transport, and its role in construction has been drastically reduced. Moreover, during the second half of the 20th century, the European Union’s Common Agricultural Poli-cy (CAP) has defined a set of communal laws to optimize agricultural production. Through new techniques and automation, plantation and livestock farming require less space today than in the past. Also, most of the European population is concentrated in urban areas. In addition to being a moral obligation, environmental conservation has in-creasingly become a tourism-oriented business. Therefore, thanks to a mix of economic growth and a stronger environmental conscience, European forests have grown by ap-proximately one-third in the past 100 years.
Even though many Western nations extol the virtues of caring for the environment, coun-tries such as Germany, Italy, France and the UK remain major consumers of resources provided by developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This is despite the fact that they are frequently produced through illegal exploitation of local forests. In some cases, the trade in fruit and vegetables with the West pushes local populations to defor-est in order to satisfy the demand for cultivable land. Restoring the natural environment is an important responsibility. This is why, in the past 17 years, Timberland has launched a series of projects worldwide, committing significant resources to clamp down on deforestation and environmental degradation. Currently, re-forestation projects are active in Haiti, Northern China, Argentina, Germany, Italy, Portu-gal, Russia, Venezuela and the USA. In the 2016, Timberland and local NGOs joined ef-forts to plant 8.7 million trees worldwide, with the goal of reaching 10 million by 2020. Such projects imply collaboration with local communities, using the occasion to educate the population on an environmentally sustainable approach which they may then pursue further. Projects in Haiti and Northern China are particular examples of Timberland’s in-terest in creating positive initiatives with social impact. They balance conservation with the improvement of the population’s living standards and the region’s economy. One of the most ambitious projects is to reforest the grasslands in the Horqin desert in Mongolia, where specific climate conditions and an absence of environmental policies have led to the dramatic desertification of a region which was once full of grasslands and pinewoods. The need to feed about 1.3 billion people has caused pastures to multiply over the last thirty years. Combined with excessive cultivation, this has caused desertifi-cation in an already delicate area – an area estimated to be over 42 thousand km2 large, around the size of Switzerland. Between March and April, desertification has caused damage outside Mongolia too, with desert storms that extended east towards China, Ja-pan, South Korea and Taiwan. In collaboration with the Japanese NGO Green Network, Timberland has therefore invested assets and workforce in regional reforestation, starting in 2001 and reaching two billion planted trees in 2015.