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Forest certification system needs reform to ensure sustainability – report

Forest certification system needs reform to ensure sustainability – report

Forest certification system needs reform to ensure sustainability – report
November 3, 2008

Demand for wood products is ultimately one of the largest drivers of global deforestation through both direct clear-cutting and selective logging, which increases a forest’s vulnerability to fire and subsequent clearing and disturbance by other actors, including hunters, subsistence farmers, land speculators, ranchers and agro-industrial firms. Reducing the detrimental environmental impacts of meeting wood demand is critical to protecting the world’s forests as healthy, productive and resilient ecosystems.

In 1993 a variety of stakeholders in forest use and management came together to develop criteria for ensuring the sustainable management of forest resources. The result was the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international non-profit organization that became the standard-bearer for eco-friendly wood certification. The idea was that FSC-labeling would make consumers aware of what wood products had been derived from responsibly-managed forests and allow them to make buying decisions based on environmental performance in addition to metrics like price, quality, and aesthetics.

In the years after its founding, FSC was widely lauded by environmental groups, who saw the scheme as a way to promote responsible use of resources, as well as some timber producers, who appreciated the market recognition for their efforts to reduce the environmental impact of operations. As the market for such timber products grew it validated the model and created incentives for further expansion. There was talk that certified timber would eventually become the market standard rather than a niche.

In recent years the optimism that buoyed growth has been replaced with concern among some of the very groups that originally supported FSC’s charter that rapid expansion has led the organization to relax its certification standards to the point where they no longer ensure that forests are responsibly-managed. In particular, critics have seized upon FSC’s certification of questionable operations and operators, including Asia Pulp & Paper, a firm notorious in environmental circles for its sustained large-scale destruction of tropical rainforests across Southeast Asia. Several campaigners are now calling for a restructuring of FSC. Some are even calling for its dissolution.

A critical look at FSC

A new report from Greenpeace takes a critical, but mostly pragmatic, look at FSC. The report, titled ‘Holding the Line‘, finds serious faults but calls for reform rather than termination.

Citing a weak audit and monitoring process, Greenpeace makes a series of recommendations for improving FSC’s performance and credibility, including revising its auditing and compliance body (Accreditation Services International – ASI), consultation processes, and review policies.

“The recommendations are centered on the need for a significant increase in Accreditation Services International’s (ASI) resources to ensure proper compliance monitoring, and the revision and simplification of several FSC standards and policies to achieve high consistent on-the-ground performance and resolve disputes swiftly,” said Greenpeace in a statement.

“Improving consultation processes in order to restore trust and encourage greater stakeholder engagement, and implementing tighter controls to prevent high risk companies from entering the system for greenwashing purposes, are also pivotal proposals.”

Greenpeace, which is one of 350 members of the FSC’s environmental chamber and will attend the organization’s General Assembly meeting this week, says that FSC “agrees with over half the recommendations, and partially agrees with most of the others”.

“Since its inception, FSC has been innovative and adaptive in meeting the challenges to transform forest stewardship worldwide,” said Judy Rodrigues, Forests Campaigner for Greenpeace International. “However, this process needs to be ongoing and this report provides constructive criticism to contribute towards its continuous improvement.”

“We always welcome the input of our members and other stakeholders, and believe that this report will contribute to improve FSC,” said Andre de Freitas, Executive Director, FSC. “We agree with most of its recommendations and in fact are already implementing some of them. For example, the 2009 budget has significantly more resources for ASI, FSC is now getting feedback on a new dispute resolution mechanism and since June 2008, accreditation decisions have been solely taken by ASI and its accreditation committee.”

Holding the Line

Rainforest Action Network to review support for FSC certification
(10/16/2008) The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) said it would review its support for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a forest products certification standard, over concerns regarding its certification of destructive logging operations. The announcement comes after a bitter campaign waged against RAN by Ecological Internet, a forest activist group.

The FSC is the ‘Enron of forestry’ says rainforest activist
(4/17/2008) On April 7th, Mongabay printed an interview with FSC International Communications Manager, Nina Haase, in which she defended the FSC against criticism leveled at it by various environmental organizations, such as The World Rainforest Movement and Ecological Internet. The interview drew strong reactions on both sides, and Simon Counsell, director of the Rainforest Foundation UK, requested a chance to respond to the FSC’s interview in-depth. In his response, he states that the FSC has created a “‘race to the bottom’ of certification standards”, alleging that the “FSC really has become the ‘Enron of forestry'”.

The FSC responds to its critics
(4/7/2008) Last month, reported on recent and various criticisms of the FSC (the Forest Stewardship Council). The FSC is an international organization that certifies forest products which, according to their standards, have been harvested in an environmentally-sustainable and socially-responsible manner. Response to the article was significant. It was picked up by the Ecological Internet’s email campaign and was mentioned on numerous environmental web sites and blogs. At the time of the publication, the FSC had not responded to requests for comments. But in the following interview, FSC International Communications Manager Nina Haase answers each criticism separately and addresses several other issues, such as the FSC and climate change, the organization’s monitoring capabilities, and its adaptation to new environmental concerns. Ultimately she responds to the big question raised by critics: is the FSC stamp still credible?

FSC has ‘failed the world’s forests’ say critics
(3/26/2008) The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has come under increasingly harsh criticisms from a variety of environmental organizations. The FSC is an international not-for-profit organization that certifies wood products: its stamp of approval is meant to create confidence that the wood was harvested in an environmentally-sustainable and socially-responsible manner. For years the FSC stamp has been imperative for concerned consumers in purchasing wood products. Yet amid growing troubles for the FSC, recent attacks from environmental organizations like World Rainforest Movement and Ecological Internet are putting the organization’s credibility into question.

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