The role of certification schemes in protecting forests has recently been in the media spotlight. Various NGOs have campaigned against certification as it is currently, releasing public reports that have garnered significant attention. The reports focused on the perceived inability to tackle environmental challenges in forests, particularly in countries where legislation, or the enforcement of it isn’t particularly strong.
First and foremost, FSC works towards the same goal as environmental NGOs and campaigners. We all want to protect our forests and make sure they continue to provide the tangible and intangible benefits for us, our children and our grandchildren.
One aspect of the recent campaigning has been a negative narrative - targeting FSC in particular - that claims that existing “measures” used to drive sustainability into markets are no longer working. We acknowledge the growing concerns of these campaigners, and even understand their ultimate aim.
It’s painful seeing areas of forests harvested unsustainably or clearly in breach of laws. Although we are not a traditional campaigning organization, we support the campaigners in their drive for stricter legislation. This is why, in 2020, we actively supported the #Together4Forests campaign and advocated for stricter rules in the European legislation.
Making markets more transparent and responsible
A key driver in FSC’s creation was the global inaction by governments and international organizations as the environmental, social, and economic pressures related to forests increased, in the context of the early signals of climate change and globalization. This inaction propelled a committed a group of businesses, environmentalists (including NGOs) and community leaders to band together to create a revolutionary concept: a voluntary, market-based approach that would improve forestry practices worldwide.
They believed that one of the solutions should be to work through the markets that were driving increased emissions and deforestation. The idea was to assist forest sector businesses by working with them to set robust standards covering environmental and social criteria, while also working to create a demand from consumers by educating them about responsible sourcing.
Ultimately, this approach still works and is more relevant now than ever; one reason why the FSC system is targeted by these campaigners. Through our work over 25 years, almost 230 million hectares of forests are now under responsible management.
Balancing the needs of various stakeholders
Although FSC’s approach has proved successful, forests continue to be under pressure, lost or destroyed- particularly through conversion to agricultural commodities such as palm oil, soy, and cattle ranching. However, there is also greater forest product demand for our growing global population. This includes both existing forest sector products, such as solid wood for construction, and emerging ones such as wood-based viscose.
This is the current context that shapes our work, from building on our foundation for responsible forest management to fully enabling responsible stewardship. These influences underpin our 2021-2026 strategy. Over the years, FSC has learnt from the challenges of balancing the needs of all stakeholders, introduced new solutions and won trust. We are confident that we can continue to grow and learn while maintaining our quality and high principles, and making FSC accessible to forest owners. We want our certification to be a tool that creates positive impacts in forests at scale.
Operating in countries of high risk
Through their recent reports on weaknesses of certification schemes, campaigners are targeting the European Commission, widely seen as the global leader in setting environmental legislation. They are demanding tighter rules on companies in the EU that are sourcing timber; especially from countries categorized as “High Risk”, whether these countries are in or out of the EU.
It’s worth remembering that FSC’s First Principle requires organizations to comply with national and international legislation. With the other nine principles, our standards go well beyond legislation, but ultimately build on the national system of controls. This is why, the FSC system is most needed in high risk countries where “forest control systems do not function properly.” The system adds transparency to an opaque industry, but still faces a variety of challenges.
We see it as our responsibility to continue to work in the highest risk countries, to help them improve in ways that are locally appropriate. FSC is an additional radar, making transparency and stakeholder involvement a norm even beyond areas that are certified.
Taking responsibility to improve the system
What keeps us going is the knowledge that we do improve our criteria to better reflect the science as well as our different social and cultural operating contexts. We are also re-building our certification system infrastructure to meet the needs of the real-time digital, data and information age.
All this is to manage the risk of the FSC system being used in negative ways. Progress can seem slow in our fast-paced, complex world; especially from the outside looking in. However, through respected and open dialogue, stakeholders can shape our system and the ways in which we work. This continual dialogue creates ownership among stakeholders and ensures our system is practical to implement on the ground, even if not easy.
Supporting stricter legislation
We also realize that the FSC system operates much better when there are strong laws and law enforcement in place in the different contexts that we work in. Furthermore, as a system that is implemented across the entirety of a supply chain, we also know that we need to support stronger legislation at both the supply and demand ends of supply chains.
In higher risk countries that supply wood and fiber, it is in our own interest to continue to advocate for stricter controls and raising the bar. This ultimately gives those consumer markets at the end of supply chains the confidence they need to maintain high trust in FSC-labelled products.
At the end of the day, improved legislation and enforcement in countries across the world is what will level the playing field in this industry. Our positions on EU policies under the Green Deal such as EU Timber Regulation, Deforestation and Taxonomy are all good examples of how we have expressed our support for this agenda.
Including a variety of voices for integrated solutions
In the complex world we operate in, partnerships for concerted action have never been more important.
As Chris Quine recently underlined in his keynote speech to the Treescapes conference: “We need to avoid polarization and strive for integrated solutions to global challenges.” We therefore invite these campaigners to also join us in our efforts to improve FSC certification, by coming to the table and through contributing constructive dialogue.
There are many ways to take part: by participating in the public consultations of the FSC standards, becoming a member and voting on motions that shape our system, or registering FSC system weaknesses through Assurance Services International’s incidents monitoring.
Together, we will be stronger in working towards all our aims to meet the urgent environmental and social challenges. Together, we can join in a diverse approach, supporting and complementing forest law and governance at international, regional, and national levels. At the end of the day we are all working towards forests for all, forever.