As I made my way to Prague in October, preparing to meet with various stakeholders to discuss public forest in Europe, I hoped for positive and constructive engagement. Around half of the forests in Europe are publicly owned. As such, public forest owners are a very important stakeholder group for FSC.
The conference was organized by FSC to explore how the FSC platform and certification scheme can add value to Europe’s public forests. The proposed sessions focused on three areas of value that FSC could provide to public forest owners: supporting economic competitiveness, enabling environmental value and building societal trust.
I looked forward to this dedicated opportunity to listen to (and hopefully address some of) the concerns of this professional community in a meaningful way. I was not disappointed. The event was well-attended by various decision makers, owners, and managers of Europe’s public forests. Other stakeholders included professionals from relevant forest industry value chains, environmental NGOs and a few stakeholders interested in the societal value of forests. This kept discussions balanced, interesting and lively, which is exactly what we have come to expect from FSC events.
Among the speakers, Jacobo Aboal, Deputy Director of Forest Resources at the regional government of Galicia, Spain, highlighted how he is using FSC to improve the economic competitiveness of Galicia’s regional forests from a cost perspective, thereby making regulatory enforcement lighter for those owners and managers that already implement FSC certification. He also explained that decarbonization – i.e. the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions – has led to a rising demand for wood from his region, particularly if it sourced from an FSC-certified forest. In this scenario, FSC can play a pivotal role by educating small forest owners to sustainably manage their forests whilst strengthening their ecosystem services in order to conserve their wood stocks. These practices can in turn generate economic and environmental benefits for local communities, beyond timber sales.
Jacobo’s presentation was complemented by Ikea’s Ulf Johannsson and the Polish Economic Chamber of the Wood Industry Rafal Gruszczynski, both representing the furniture industry value chain. Both presenters highlighted the increasing demand for FSC-certified timber in their industries. They explained that FSC certification helped meet the expectations of those in the furniture value chain, including end consumers who expect wood to be sourced responsibly. In this regard, FSC certification provides a strong “trust brand” to relevant industries to be able to claim legitimately that products are sourced responsibly.
The theme of FSC as a “trust brand” continued into the next session where FSC’s Alison von Kettler and Stefano Pelizzon, President of the Lowland Forestry Association in Italy, stressed how private investors recognized FSC as a trusted certification scheme when making claims that ecosystem services are conserved. The Association, which is part of an FSC-certified group scheme, was the first in the world to receive an FSC ecosystem services verification fulfilling all five environmental components that make up these services. Stefano highlighted how their project has been able to use FSC certification as a way to attract finance for biodiversity projects in his area, something that he hopes will attract more tourists to the area.
Marcus Lindner from the European Forest Institute and Thomas Krejzar, Director of Department at the Ministry of Agriculture of the Czech Republic both addressed the impacts of climate change on forests and possible mitigation strategies, including voluntary certification. Although FSC certification has the potential to play this role, the presenters stressed that FSC needs to do more to become accessible to public forest agencies that manage swathes of forest across Europe. Another challenge put to FSC was the need to better calibrate the FSC forestry standard requirements across Europe to best ensure that more similar outcomes are achieved competitively across Europe’s forests.
The final session focused on the core theme that seemed to be repeated throughout the day: “How can foresters build trust with society about the important work they do?” In this regard FSC can play a key role in supporting public forest administrators to develop credible communication with the societal stakeholders they engage with.
Christine Farcy from the University of Louvain noted that it is critical for foresters to help in changing the narrative of them as only forest managers, by playing an active role in managing the relationship that society has with forests. For this to happen successfully, positive communication is essential. Schemes such as FSC therefore can be used as a tool to communicate how forestry can be responsible and that it’s not “always bad” to cut forests.
Alexander Dountchev showed how he as a forest manager from the Bulgarian South-Western State Forestry Enterprise used FSC certification to improve his relationships with relevant stakeholders and civil society by tackling illegal logging and proposing better forest management in Bulgaria. He added that FSC could add further value for public forests by educating forest administrators and explaining the role FSC can play in solving local forestry issues.
Finally, FSC Sweden’s Henrik von Stedingk outlined how they have proactively educated stakeholders who have been negative about forest practices in the past. While this is a work in progress, their work has helped to make expectations clearer about what is and what is not possible through the FSC system and what to expect from FSC-certified forests.
In the past, FSC has perhaps not been accessible enough to public forest administrators. However, going forward, I am confident that the current culture shift within FSC will bring positive change.
We are continuously improving our engagement with stakeholders and finding solutions to challenges. From gathering data and developing new tools to better address climate change and deforestation, to forging better relationships between forest operators and civil society. By doing this I am confident that FSC has the people to develop the solutions needed to empower and enable forest owners and managers to juggle the pressing challenges and competing needs on forests within Europe and globally. On top of this we are looking at ways we can speed developments up so that we can get solutions to the market quicker, but still with the credibility that is integral to FSC’s position as the most trusted Sustainable Forest Management System.
Our success is always shared success. FSC can only continue the journey to making a positive difference if it keeps addressing economic, environmental and societal challenges in collaboration with governments, civil society and businesses.