The development of sustainable plantation forestry systems requires the alignment of key attributes including ecological capacity of site, soil, water and environmental values, management intensity and economic benefit. Systems in which these variables are well aligned will have a low risk of failure and should be sustainable. There are vast opportunities to use plantations for wood production and for environmental benefits such as carbon sequestration, amelioration of land degradation and biodiversity enhancement. These opportunities are yet to be explored fully and the value-adding potential of plantation forestry needs to be more explicitly recognized and quantified. Achieving a balance between these interactive areas is a great challenge for tropical forest research and application. Productivity of plantation forests in many tropical regions remains very low, but examples from temperate areas illustrate how productivity can be increased by tree improvement and careful attention to site management practices. Selecting appropriate germplasm (species, provenances or clones) for planting is a vital first step in developing sustainable systems. Recent developments in climatic mapping and growth modelling provide valuable tools for species-site matching, yield prediction and disease risk assessment. Investments in research on sustained productivity would assist not only wood production values, but also the capacity of plantation forests to support and benefit from the provision of environmental services. We present here examples of how relevant research, strengthened by partnerships, can be built for the advancement of sustainable plantation forestry. Opportunities for creating and sharing information through partnership are many. There is a need to foster a balanced approach to the development of plantation forestry to realize its full potential. Sustainability is a journey, not a destination. Parallel aspirations and developments in planted forests in temperate and tropical regions open up valuable opportunities for mutually beneficial research collaboration - the way for the future.