Science and Sustainability

A critical link in the forest, on the river, or in the vegetable patch
Nov 18, 2013 8:40 AM ET
The power of soil nutrition: Scott Holub with his Oregon-record green squash.

For Weyerhaeuser, studying soil nutrition leads to more productive forests. For Weyerhaeuser’s Scott Holub, it earned him a rafting adventure. It also helped him grow a big squash. Holub’s a Weyerhaeuser silvicultural research scientist based in Eugene, Ore. His studies in soil productivity and sustainable forest management provide crucial information for the company and for other organizations.
“Scott’s work is the backbone of what we do in sustainability,” says Sara Kendall, vice president of corporate affairs and sustainability. “Science and data are essential to the decisions we make regarding our practices and their effects on the environment.”

  Corporate Eco Forum
Which is why Kendall encouraged Holub to apply for this year’s leadership-development program sponsored by the Corporate Eco Forum — an association of 70 global businesses that promotes sustainable innovations and best practices.
This year’s program was held on Idaho’s Salmon River, and Holub was one of nine participants chosen for their competitive applications. Other winners were from Google, Chevron, Duke Energy, Oracle, Timberland, McKinsey & Co., Johnson & Johnson, and Microsoft. The trip was geared toward people who were viewed as leaders, collaborators and team players involved in sustainability solutions. Most were sustainability managers, but a few, including Holub, were scientists.   “Sending someone like me,” says Holub, “helped make the point that basing decisions on science increases our credibility and prepares us to answers questions from shareholders and customers on sustainability.”   Days of navigating the Salmon and its Class-III and -IV whitewater provided plenty of opportunities for teamwork and collaboration. Evenings were filled with organized discussions of today’s sustainability challenges.   “The personal connections with people from other companies in the sustainability arena is an important takeaway for us,” he adds. “We now have contacts within those companies to explore potential opportunities to collaborate or do business.”   Off the river, a multi-project manager
“We own or manage more than 20 million acres of timberlands worldwide,” says Holub. “Maintaining soil productivity and carbon stores is vital to our long-term business success as well as our commitment to sustainability.”   Holub’s contribution is significant. Among other duties, he’s the lead scientist on three collaborative sustainability-science projects. One, with Oregon State University, the U.S. Forest Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency, is assessing how timber harvesting impacts soil carbon.   A partnership with the University of Washington and the USFS is testing the effects of soil compaction and removing residual biomass on tree growth.   The third project, funded by a $40 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant awarded to Northwest Advanced Renewable Alliances, is aimed at the sustainable production of jet fuel from residual woody biomass.   “A common theme across all the projects,” says Holub, “is demonstrating the carbon benefits provided by actively managed timberlands.”   And in the vegetable garden…
About the time Holub was discussing sustainability issues on the Salmon River, his carefully nurtured green squash back home in Eugene was quietly adding girth.   In October, the squash — with no trace of disqualifying orange color — weighed in at 1,175 pounds, capturing First Place at one of the country’s top weigh-off competitions.   The largest squash ever recorded in Oregon, it was the third-largest grown in the world in 2013. Holub had to borrow a diesel truck and use a 13-foot tripod to move it to the competition. He says his knowledge of soil helped the effort.   “It’s a little bit unfair,” he says. “I understand fertilizers and other nutrients that seeds need.”   The same understanding that produced that great half-ton gourd also qualifies Holub as a recognized authority on Pacific Northwest soils and sustainability. He emerged from the Corporate Eco Forum experience enriched, engaged, energized and focused.   Still, in the back of his mind he hears next year’s squash calling.   “I really want to beat the U.S. record,” he says. “I only have about 90 pounds to go.”