FSC-certified ball and paddle

From a brilliant idea to a major factor

June 1992 was a month I will never forget: the Danish people voted no to the EU Maastricht Treaty, Denmark won the European football championship for the first and only time and I took part in the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro as a member of the Danish government delegation. A unique month!

That Earth Summit set the agenda for sustainable development for many years to come and led to several key international treaties. However, it could not reach any meaningful, binding agreement on sustainable management of the world’s forests which was a major disappointment. Tropical forests loss was top of the agenda, but governments failed to take meaningful action.

FSC did not come out of the Earth Summit. Preparation to establish FSC had started years before, but I’m sure that the disappointment strengthened the resolve to find other solutions. If governments were not willing to solve the problem, other actors needed to step up. And FSC was a clear answer to this forest loss challenge, by offering a market- driven solution.

Honestly, when I first heard about FSC in 1994 I did not believe it would gain traction. The idea was brilliant, and I could see it becoming a great tool for environmental and social NGOs. It gave them an alternative to boycotting, when they campaigned against deforestation, human rights violations and other unacceptable problems. But I did not believe FSC would ever become a key driver in mainstream markets, and for many years it did not.

In the 1990s I worked for WWF in Denmark and we promoted FSC in our campaigns. But Denmark is not really a forest country, so over the years our attention moved to other issues. I lost track of FSC a bit – I bought certified products when I could but did not do much more. It was only when I applied for the FSC Director General position in 2012 that I began to look at it again.

And imagine my surprise! In the meantime, FSC had become a major force for good with a very important membership, 150 million hectares of forests certified across the world. I found products bearing FSC labels on almost every shelf in shops.

Since 2012, FSC has kept growing. We have become the world’s most trusted sustainable forest management solution. Our 25th anniversary provides an excellent opportunity to look back with pride at what we have achieved and to look forward with excitement at the next challenges we need to meet.

FSC has created a completely new paradigm for stakeholder involvement in forest management. Through our decision-making system we bring together diverse interests – social, environmental and economic – in defining what responsible forest management means, and no interest group can outvote the others. This is the core of FSC: no other group can do that in all the world.

It often takes time to reach decisions. But when the system works, our decisions are genuinely democratic and solid, because they reflect the points of view of all the interested stakeholders.

Japanese forests

Significant FSC innovations

Over the years, many FSC innovations have significantly influenced the way forests are managed. This influence goes way beyond FSC-certified areas. Let me mention two of these innovations:

  • We developed the concept of high conservation value forests, now used by many actors including outside the forestry sector. This concept has positive impact for environmental protection and social benefits in many areas – for instance those used for agricultural commodities.
  • Controlled wood has become a de facto industry norm in the forestry sector. With a stronger controlled wood standard now in place, we may use it as a stepping stone in a strong push for FSC certification to become the norm.

It makes me very proud when I see studies showing workers and local communities have better standards of living in FSC-certified forests. Additionally, a number of environmental studies show FSC-certified forests are almost always performing better in terms of species protection, protection of vulnerable ecosystems, and watershed management, among others.

25 years - FSC

Always working to achieve our goals and innovate

FSC has accomplished a lot during the past 25 years. But there is always room to grow. We see this potential in a number of areas, for example:

  • We have developed very important tools for certification of smallholders and communities, including group certification. However, there are still not enough smallholders and communities certified. Therefore, we have established a New Approaches to Smallholder Certification project, to develop and test new ideas making FSC certification more attractive and feasible for smallholders and communities. This is a major priority for the organization now and in the coming years.
  • There is a need to develop natural forest certification in the tropics. Many tropical forests are under severe pressure from illegal logging, and deforestation due to factors such as the expansion of agricultural commodities. FSC is not a stand-alone solutions to these problem, but we are working with governments and other partners on solutions – like fiscal incentives. These measures should lead to a more even playing field for FSC-certified companies by rewarding them for their good environmental and social performances.

Partly due to our global success and our strong label recognition, we have become a tempting target for people who want to sell products bearing our logo, but do not want to go through the certification process. We have developed a programme for ‘Supply Chain Integrity’ to discover and act on incorrect labelling or attempts of fraud. We use transaction verification, wood identification technologies and other tools to strengthen our control systems through innovative solutions. These efforts have already led to several suspensions of certificates, where irregularities and fraud were discovered, for example, in the charcoal market in Europe.

We are also working to modernize and innovate FSC in other areas, to ensure for instance that FSC certification is recognized and used as a solution for documenting strong climate performance of forest management. The world will not solve the climate crisis without responsible forest management, and FSC has the tools to be an important part of the solution for policy makers, investors and forest managers.

Looking back at our 25-year history, FSC has a lot to be proud of, and when we combine our learnings with innovative initiatives, we have a very powerful cocktail of ideas to further increase our positive impact for forests and people. This way our first years can become the stepping stone for the 25 next years of work to ensure we have Forests for All Forever.