Members of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), meeting in Malaysia next week for its General Assembly, will consider various changes to the organization, including a vote on a controversial motion that would open the door—slightly at first—to sustainable-certification of companies that have been involved in recent forest destruction for pulp and paper plantations. Known as Motion 18, the change is especially focusing on forestry in places where recent deforestation has been rampant, such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
According to FSC documents, Motion 18 would allow “an appropriate avenue for plantation companies, that are committed to responsible plantation management and no further conversion, but that have legally converted natural forest to tree plantations after 1994, to be FSC-certified under certain conditions may provide important social and environmental benefits.” Currently the FSC will not certify plantations that were involved in deforestation since 1994.
Winnie Overbeek of World Rainforest Movement (WRM), says that if such a rule is approved it will open the door to more forest loss worldwide.
FSC certificates by biomes: global certified area
FSC certificates by forest type: global certified area. Click images to enlarge.
“It definitely will be another incentive to expand plantations in forest areas and therefore another incentive for deforestation and, at the same time, greenwashing of industrial tree plantations,” Overbeek told mongabay.com.
The rule was initially proposed by Daemeter Consulting, an independent firm that works with ‘sustainable and equitable management of natural resources in Indonesia’, according to its website. Aisyah Sileuw, president director, admitted to mongabay.com that the motion may be hard-to-stomach for some, but said that its intent is to bring more sustainable forestry practices to places such as Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as to stem further forest loss, not cause more.
“The motion will undoubtedly be controversial, as some will see it as pro-pulp and paper and therefore necessarily bad based on legitimate criticisms of the industry voiced by many environmental groups. The motion, however, does not propose immediate repeal of the 1994 cut-off, nor does it propose to allow further conversion of natural forest,” explains Sileuw. “Rather, it calls for FSC to take steps toward developing a mechanism by which companies who have undertaken legal forest conversion in the past could, under certain conditions yet to be defined, become certified.”
Darius Sarshar, from the investment firm New Forests, adds that Motion 18 simply reflects changing realities of tropical forestry, especially in Asia. Less natural forest for logging in the region—most remaining forest has either already been logged or is under some form of protection—means that wood producers are turning more and more toward establishing plantations.
“A key challenge for FSC is to ensure its continued relevance in light of the transition process that is underway in Asia. As a member and strong supporter of FSC, we believe the organization needs to take a pragmatic approach to ensure it maintains an ability to influence the conversion process and be truly transformational of industry practices. This is critical if we are to safeguard the High Conservation Values that tropical Asian forests still harbor,” says Sarshar, who argues that if the FSC bends too far to environmental purity, it could risk any influence in the region.
Industrial timber plantation. Image courtesy of the Rainforest Action Network, an FSC member.
“If [the FSC] takes an idealist approach, I fear the FSC will be marginalized as a niche certification initiative, and Darth Vader forestry will rule,” he concludes.
However, Overbeek argues that monoculture plantations are in their very nature ‘uncertifiable’ and that the FSC should have avoided them altogether.
“A monoculture can never be considered as ‘socially just, environmentally adequate and economically viable’, as FSC defines its certified areas. It can only be considered sustainable from the point of view of the company that promotes these plantations and benefits from the profits they obtain, even bigger if they can certify their plantations,” she says.
Overbeek adds that part of the problem is that the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) deems monoculture plantations as ‘forests’.
“The FAO definition is based on a reductionist vision of what a forest is, just considering it as a provider of wood by means of the trees, totally different from the multiple social, environmental (climate), economical, spiritual and cultural importance and benefits of forests, especially for forest peoples and others who depend for their livelihoods on forests,” she says pointing out that “local communities affected by the implementation of tree monoculture plantations often do not call these plantations a forest, on the contrary, in Brazil for example they used to call them ‘green deserts'”.
However, for the time being, continuing FSC certification of monoculture plantations seems assured. In fact Motion 18, which would widely broaden such certification, may be construed as a quid-pro-quo between logging companies, the FSC, and some environmental groups: by promising to forego further forest destruction—including perhaps better protection for secondary forests—companies could then qualify for certification.
Still, the FSC has an uneven history in dealing with so-called troubled companies. Currently, it faces criticism for certifying companies in the Congo that have been accused of violating human rights.
Simon Counsell, Executive Director of Rainforest Foundation UK, told monagaby,com that “if passed, [Motion 18] is likely to cause uproar amongst many in the NGO community, who vigorously oppose FSC certification of any form of plantations, and would possibly lead to more resignations from FSC.”
FSC certificates by tenure management: global certified area
FSC certificates by tenure ownership: global certified area. Click images to enlarge.
Counsell, whose organization has dropped out of the FSC, says he was especially surprised by one of Motion 18’s supporters.
“Staggeringly, one of the seconders of this motion is Grant Rosoman of Greenpeace-Interntional, a former Chair of the FSC. Greenpeace supporters might wonder exactly what is the point of the current ‘Ken and Barbie’ campaign if Greenpeace supports the destruction of forests by other plantation companies. Perhaps even Asian Pulp and Paper could become FSC certified…”
In fact Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), a brand that has been widely criticized for large-scale rainforest and peatland destruction in Indonesia, was certified by the FSC until an article in the Wall Street Journal in 2007 pushed the FSC to drop it. Controversy over APP’s record also brought trouble to Mattel—the makers of Barbie dolls—when Greenpeace pointed out that Barbie packaging contained fibers from APP plantations linked to forest destruction on Sumatra.
However, Grant Rosoman of Greenpeace-New Zealand told mongabay.com that though he seconded the motion, he would not support it as it is written, saying the current wording “doesn’t properly reflect” the motion’s actual goal.
“The intent of the motion is to get a group of people together to talk about options for post 1994 converted plantation areas to see how and under what conditions FSC can engage with them. There is the no foregone conclusion that FSC allow certification of post 1994 plantations,” he says.
Rosoman argues that the motion—if done correctly, which is still a possibility given that the wording is always debated and modified at the General Assembly—would right a bias against certifying plantations in Southeast Asia where much of the deforestation has been recent.
“We support the need for FSC to find a way to have more impact in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia with significant areas of post 1994 plantations and where ongoing conversion is having a huge environmental impact,” he says. “Currently the 1994 cut off date—chosen because it was when the FSC Principles and Criteria were finalized—favors countries and companies that happened to have carried out their forest conversion prior to 1994–a significant bias in favor of ‘northern’ nations.”
Rosoman also says Motion 18 wouldn’t let APP off the hook.
This picture from Slovakia shows one of the operations of the state forestry company, which has had several of its regions certified. This forest was originally certified by the Soil Association, but then lost its certificate because of poor management practices, but they then went to another certifier, SGS, and got re-certified. Photo by Maria Hudakova, WOLF/Friends of the Earth Slovakia.
“Mattel has packaging that includes fiber from conversion of natural tropical rainforests as well as plantation fiber,” he said, referencing Greenpeace’s recent campaign against Mattel’s use of fiber from APP. “Our main issue is with the rainforest fiber and we want all conversion of forests to stop.”
“We do not agree that plantations from recent deforestation can be certified but we do want to be part of a conversation regarding plantations that have been developed and what action can be taken which would encourage forest restoration, more forest conservation and addressing local community rights and benefits.”
Thus, moving forward on Motion 18 would require the FSC to attain a difficult balancing act between supporting better management of plantations on the ground—and working to quell future deforestation—while not appearing to condone past actions of companies involved in the destruction of forests. It is a balancing act that, if the FSC gets wrong, could prove devastating to an organization already facing threats to its credibility on a number of fronts.
The FSC has been battling a rising tide of criticism from smaller environmental groups for years. As one of the world’s largest certification schemes for wood and paper products, the organization is a clear target for everything that is wrong in forestry. Beyond the issue of plantations, the organization has been called out, and even campaigned against, for certifying companies that practice clear-cutting of forests or selectively log in old-growth forests, the richest in carbon and biodiversity.
Only last week, the FSC lost the support of one of its environmental supporters, FERN. However it was not plantations or old growth forest issues that caused FERN to finally break with FSC, but the organization’s pursuit of carbon credits.
A concession belonging to one of Sinar Mas’ pulpwood companies, PT Bina Duta Laksana. © Greenpeace.
Greenpeace’s Rosoman says the world continues to consume wood and fiber, but the FSC can help meet this demand in a less-damaging way.
“Currently most [wood and fiber] comes from natural forests but they are fast being logged out and converted,” he told mongabay.com. “We are campaigning hard for an end to forest conversion and clear protection for the remaining large intact forest landscapes.”
“If plantations are planted on degraded lands (non-forest) or former agricultural lands this can provide a way of producing wood that can substitute wood from natural forests. If this can help take the pressure off natural forests it can be a positive thing, but we will never support the conversion of forests into plantation.”
Overbeek believes the FSC is more concerned with certifying as much forest and plantation-land as possible than with keeping environmental standards high and making certain companies comply. Since the FSC depends on the companies it certifies to pay for it: the more companies the FSC signs up, the more funds it pulls in for operations, arguably incentivizing mass-certification over high standards or rigorous checking-up.
For his part, Counsell believes the meeting this week will do little to address FSC’s troubles.
“The important thing to appreciate about the FSC’s General Assemblies is that they are primarily set up as joint congratulatory celebration of the FSC’s achievements over the previous three years,” he says. “There will no doubt be much mutual-back-slapping about, for example, the fact that the total area certified under the FSC scheme is approaching 150 million hectares worldwide, and the number of Chain of Custody certificates has passed 20,000. This is decidedly not a place to raise or formally discuss major concerns about, for example, the continued decline of the FSC’s credibility.”
However Daemeter Consulting’s Sileuw says the motion, if passed and implemented correctly, could go far in moving plantations in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia towards more environmentally-friendly practices, while giving them an economic incentive not to participate in further forest destruction.
“It is our hope that such a scheme would engage and offer the industry an incentive to move towards certified responsible management of biodiversity, environmental, and social and cultural issues beyond that required by law,” she said, adding that, “we recognize that such a mechanism must include safeguards that are carefully developed to ensure further conversion of natural forest is not promoted and positive long term outcomes are achieved.”
Whether Motion 18 would further undercut trust in the FSC or bring about a new, and better, age for forests in places where it is desperately needed remains to be seen. Of course, it first has to pass the General Assembly vote next week.
(06/23/2011) Shooting baboons will continue in Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified plantations. After examining a complaint by the NGO GeaSphere against South African plantations for trapping and shooting hundreds of baboons, the FSC has announced it will not place a moratorium on baboon-killing in its sustainably-certified plantations.
(06/19/2011) The forest organization, FERN, has pulled its support from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), reports FSC-Watch. FERN has quit the increasingly troubled organization due to FSC pursuing carbon credits through forestry. The FSC loses FERN just weeks before its 6th General Assembly, in which FSC partners—including private corporations and some environmental groups—will meet to debate current practices.
(06/07/2011) More than 90 percent of tropical forests are managed poorly or not at all, says a new assessment by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).
(05/22/2011) Two separate protests against logging companies by local communities have turned violent in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), leaving at least one dead. According to Greenpeace, one of the companies involved in the violence, Sodefor, is sustainably certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Given that the industry in DRC is rife with social conflict and corruption, Greenpeace is advocating that FSC place a moratorium on certifying new industrial-style logging concessions in the central African nation.
(03/10/2011) Over the past twenty years Indonesia lost more than 24 million hectares of forest, an area larger than the U.K. Much of the deforestation was driven by logging for overseas markets. According to the World Bank, a substantial proportion of this logging was illegal. Curtailing illegal logging may seem relatively simple, but at the root of the problem of illegal logging is something bigger: Indonesia’s land policy. Can the tide be turned? There are signs it can. Indonesia is beginning to see a shift back toward traditional models of forest management in some areas. Where it is happening, forests are recovering. Telapak understands the issue well. It is pushing community logging as the ‘new’ forest management regime in Indonesia. Telapak sees community forest management as a way to combat illegal logging while creating sustainable livelihoods.
(06/02/2010) In the 1980s and 1990s pressure from activist groups led some of the world’s largest forestry products companies and retailers to join forces with environmentalists to form the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a certification standard that aims to reduce the environmental impact of wood and paper production on natural forests. Despite initial skepticism on whether buyers would pay a premium for greener forest products, FSC quickly grew and by 2000 had become a standard in many markets, including Europe and the United States. Companies like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ikea are today strong supporters of the FSC. But the FSC has not been without controversy. In recent years some activists have voiced concern about FSC standards as well as the credibility of auditors that certify timber operations. Among the initiative’s supporters is the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a group best known for its aggressive protest tactics. RAN says engagement with the FSC is better than the alternative: leaving the timber industry to devise its own sustainability standards.
(06/02/2010) Radical, controversial, ahead-of-his-time, brilliant, or extremist: call Dr. Glen Barry, the head of Ecological Internet, what you will, but there is no question that his environmental advocacy group has achieved major successes in the past years, even if many of these are below the radar of big conservation groups and mainstream media. “We tend to be a little different than many organizations in that we do take a deep ecology, or biocentric approach,” Barry says of the organization he heads. “[Ecological Internet] is very, very concerned about the state of the planet. It is my analysis that we have passed the carrying capacity of the Earth, that in several matters we have crossed different ecosystem tipping points or are near doing so. And we really act with more urgency, and more ecological science, than I think the average campaign organization.”
(04/17/2008) 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'”.
(04/07/2008) Last month, Mongabay.com 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?
(03/26/2008) 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.