For Cade Warner, forestry and family are synonymous.
“I grew up around foresters and around timberland and admired both. Forestry holds a special place in my heart,” said Warner, whose family has managed The Westervelt Company for almost 140 years. “We’re a family company and we operate like a family. We have a responsibility to take care of all our stakeholders–employees, customers, suppliers, community, environment and shareholders–and we take that responsibility seriously.
Warner serves as director of business development and improvement for the business, but since graduating from Warnell he’s cut his own path through a range of experiences in the industry. More recently, these perspectives have gelled into new opportunities for Westervelt and given Warner the ability to help move the company into the future.
You see, Westervelt takes a unique approach to forestry and forest products. From its origin as a manufacturer of paper bags in the late 1800s, it moved to the Southeast and into paper and packaging and eventually into lumber. Leading this migration was Mildred Westervelt Warner, who became president of the company (then known as Gulf States Paper) in 1938. While her presence was groundbreaking alone, under her leadership the company continued to expand and evolve, moving into timber and wildlife services.
More recently, The Westervelt Company has expanded its land acquisition activities and established its Ecological Services division, which focuses on conservation and mitigation services. It’s a smaller portion of the forestry industry but it’s growing rapidly. The company has about 60 employees in this division, spread out in offices across the country. They work to offset development by restoring wildlife habitat and wetlands.
“My dad really imparted a sense of stewardship for the land and a heartfelt concern for sustainability. … We’ve always had a strong focus on conservation, and one thing I’m bringing back to the table is a renewed focus on that, and a hyper focus on sustainability,” said Warner. “We’ve always layered sustainable practices into our forestry operations. The majority of our lands are dually certified under SFI and FSC and we’re looking at ways to capture the value of carbon, layer in conservation value, and for opportunities to partner with ENGOs and nontraditional timberland interests who have more of a conservation focus.”
Lumber continues to be a major part of the company, and when harvested sustainably it also supports the model of an eco-friendly business. Even though “sustainability” wasn’t a word in the company’s early years, the concept existed and propelled the Westervelt-Warner family to make wise decisions for the company—decisions Warner strives to emulate today.
Warner told Mildred’s story earlier this year to attendees of the first Woman’s Landowner Symposium, hosted by Warnell and partner organizations. He said it was important for others to learn about her not just because it’s a good story, but also because she has paved a worthy path to follow.
“We’ve been doing sustainability long before it was a household term. We called it ‘wise use and conservation’ in the ’20s, and it really started with her. It’s what differentiates us, and it’s a big part of our plan for the future,” said Warner. “Building on our legacy of sustainable practices is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. It’s critical to our long term approach to business and our view on the environment—we think in generations, not quarters.”