With Aram Terry, Founder of Masaya & Co.
During his time in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, Aram Terry saw first hand the devastating impact of deforestation and in contrast, the economic benefit of forest stewardship. This fueled his desire to found businesses that focus on sustainable forestry as a means to extend the lives of our forests for future generations.
Since forests have both tangible and intangible value, it’s only right that their management is as sustainable as possible. On the Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast, Aram shared how he’s making an impact with not one, not two, but three (!!!) businesses focused on reforesting deforested land and creating a market for young wood.
In this post, we’ll explore how Aram Terry’s vision for sustainably managed forests is providing economic, environmental, and social benefits to communities in Nicaragua.
Let’s dive in!
See the full interview that we conducted with Aram Terry, founder of Masaya & Co., below:
What is Sustainable Forestry?
Sustainable forestry might sound like an oxymoron. If trees are being cut down, isn’t that still bad for the environment? Not entirely! Sustainable forestry practices balance the triple bottom line: social, environmental, and economic sustainability. In short, the practice of sustainable forestry ensures that in the cultivation of natural resources, the long-term future of the forest is secured.
We all know the importance of trees for our shared ecosystems, so here we’ll dive into the key elements of sustainable forestry.
3 Key Elements of Sustainable Forest Management
Since 1990, Nicaragua has lost 10 million acres of forests to cattle farming. In conventional forestry, trees are cut down at an alarming rate, with little consideration for the future of this precious natural resource.
Deforestation at this level increases greenhouse gas emissions, harms local species through habitat loss, and disregards local indigenous communities. Sustainable forestry couldn’t be any more different.
Element #1: Unique Carbon Cycle
A key element of sustainable forestry is a unique carbon cycle. Instead of letting trees decay and release their carbon back into the atmosphere (perpetuating climate change!), they’re harvested and used for everyday products. Planting trees is an active way to capture carbon and perform carbon offsetting, completing the cycle.
In the podcast, Aram mentioned the capture of carbon as it relates to the business of wood.
“My point of view is: use as much wood as possible because you’re sinking carbon. Wood is 50% carbon. So you want to as long as the wood is reforested, and planted and grown, the more people are doing that the more carbon is captured, the more soils are protected, soils are enriched, etc.”
This is one of the reasons that Aram sees wood as the most valuable building material as opposed to materials like steel or concrete. These options perpetuate climate change instead of mitigating it.
Element #2: Social Sustainability
Another key element to sustainable forestry is giving ownership to local people.
Aram’s example of organizations like Taking Root that work with cattle farmers to reforest their land instead of exploiting it is a perfect example of how economic empowerment is a crucial piece of truly sustainable forestry management.
There are myriad ways to incorporate local involvement, particularly indigenous involvement, into the sustainable management of forests. Local employment opportunities are one way sustainably managed forests can expand opportunity. Near one FSC-Certified sawmill in Mexico, local women created a business by using the leftover timber from their nearby forests. Their successful business and the positive social and environmental impact it has on the area solidifies the importance of sustainably managed forests.
Every purchase from Masaya & Co. supports local jobs in reforestation, continuing a beautiful cycle for people and the planet.
Element #3: Economic Viability & Reforestation
Just as crucial as maintaining diverse species and prioritizing water quality within forests is the economic development of the land. While conventional forestry relies on the profit gained from clearcutting, the economic benefit of sustainable forestry uniquely lies in the reforestation process.
Reforestation refers to the intentional replanting of tree species. As the trees grow, they provide necessary habitats, sequester carbon, and filter water. Once they’re harvested, they’re directed into a sustainable supply chain like that of Masaya & Co.’s, a company which plants more trees than it harvests, all the while making durable, gorgeous furniture.
A Short Guide to Forest Certification
Not every company using wood or products derived from trees is as ethical as Aram’s company, Masaya & Co.. However, a few certifications have been developed to measure sustainability in these supply chains and encourage forest management practices that replenish the ecosystem and community from which the wood is taken. When you’re on the hunt for paper products, furniture, or even clothing, look out for these certifications.
Forest Stewardship Council
In 1993, the Rainforest Alliance co-founded the Forest Stewardship Council to create and implement a standard for how certified forests are managed. Their Forest Management Certification ensures the preservation of biodiversity and benefits the local populations. The FSC provides a framework for forest management that covers conservation, indigenous rights consideration, and reforestation, all of which are essential as logging practices and cattle ranchers can deforest land.
You may have seen the FSC logo on various products, from paper towels to clothing. However, there have been some criticisms of the FSC. Evidence has shown that logging companies can obtain an FSC certification in one forest, but use it to increase prices for wood from their other not-so-sustainable forestry operations too.
Examples of mismanagement under FSC guidelines can be found on this independent website.
Sustainable Forestry Initiative
The Sustainable Forestry Initiative is another big name in the sustainable forestry field. Companies and organizations across the
supply chain can get certified if they meet SFI’s standards.
Independent third-party audits are conducted to ensure that each sustainable forest given the SFI label meets the criteria within the SFI Forest Management Certification. Among the criteria are clauses addressing the conservation of biodiverse species, the respect of indigenous peoples’ rights, and the protection of water resources.
Masaya & Co.: From Seed to Seat
Since its founding in 2008, Masaya & Co., an environmentally friendly company, has planted more than 1 million trees on previously deforested land. Using a unique business model, the
furniture company uses reclaimed wood to design furniture made by traditional artisans.
The products at Masaya & Co., from their iconic hand-woven chairs to gorgeous shelves, and tables are made with traditional artisan production methods and dense tropical hardwood. The products made with teak are even usable both indoors and outdoors.
The designers at Masaya & Co. seamlessly marry contemporary design with traditional Central American patterns, creating timeless pieces that will last for generations to come. Masaya’s products can be found on Made Trade, on their website, or in their Nashville, TN showroom.
Aram Terry, Founder at Masaya & Co.
In 2002, Tennessee native Aram set off to Nicaragua on a Peace Corps assignment. During his time there, he became increasingly interested in sustainable business, specifically, in reforestation. In 2007, Aram founded a business there with his father which started new tree farms on deforested land. It was around that time he met his now-wife and co-founder, Abril. Together, the pair launched the mission driven company, Masaya & Co., using Aram’s background in reforestation and Abril’s skill set as an artisan from the town of Masaya.
Aram’s many business ventures include the tropical forestry management company, Maderas Sostenibles, and Guayacan, a prefabricated wood home company. Throughout his work in the sustainable forestry field, Aram is creating a higher demand for forest products that are better for the climate, the local communities dependent on tropical wood, and the many animals relying on forests for habitat.
“So to me, it’s about making a consumer for this very special wood, which is, you know, can be looked at as low grade or you know, it has more knots, it has more sap… it’s a very complicated process where we have to design and market products that consume this plantation wood.”
Support Sustainable Forestry
- Buy Wood: As Aram mentioned in his podcast episode, the demand for forest products and ethically produced wood needs to stay high so the business case for reforestation remains strong. So, buy wood! Sustainable wood, of course. Check out the Masaya site or even FSC Certified products to make an impact.
- Know Your Forests: A great way to be involved in your own local ecosystem or land is to get to know your trees! Spend some time in nature whether it’s your own backyard or during a trip abroad. If you’re in a national park, ask the rangers questions about how the forest is protected, how they work with the land to capture carbon, and whether they allow logging.
- Question Everything: Speaking of questions, ask your favorite furniture brands where their wood is from. If it’s not being reforested, maybe align your values with sustainable furniture companies like Masaya that’s making a real difference in the global health of our shared forests.
- Check out Certifications: As we well know, certifications aren’t everything and they are far from perfect. But if you’re unable to find a brand equivalent to Masaya for each product you buy that’s derived from wood or wood pulp, look for a certification like Fair Trade, FSC, or SFI.
- Use Ecosia: Did you know there’s a search engine that plants trees? Ecosia is a great way to help support reforestation projects around the world, all while going about your normal searching habits online!
Closing: The Material of the Future: Wood?
Humankind has been using wood for ages and ages, so it’s a relatively simple but impactful decision to use wood more intentionally as a building material and in furniture design. Sustainable forestry and reforestation efforts are critical aspects of land management moving forward. Without ethical treatment of these resources, the resource will no longer be renewable and climate change will wreak havoc on the planet.
Supporting sustainable forestry might seem impossible for the everyday consumer, but it’s absolutely connected to our individual purchasing decisions from furniture to paper products, and even homes!
Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode:
- Masaya & Co on Instagram and Made Trade
- Maderas Sostenibles and Guayacan, Aram’s other ventures
- Taking Root
Sustainable Workplaces Manager & Writer
Jackie is the Sustainable Workplaces Manager at Urban Green Lab, a sustainability education nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s passionate about connecting people with actionable ways to make a positive impact on the environment. She graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in Environmental Studies and a certificate in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Jackie worked in the nonprofit world in Washington D.C. for Ashoka and the National Building Museum.
Jackie enjoys hiking with her rescue dog, finding craft breweries, and traveling the globe in search of plant-based eats.