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FSC: changing forest management practices: can the same market forces that have driven destruction of the world's forests actually provide an incentive for sustainable forest management?

THE NOTION THAT MARKETS can drive responsible forest management emerged in the 1980s and was consolidated with the first General Assembly of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in Toronto in 1993.

For some it seems counter-intuitive that the same market forces that have driven destruction of the world's forests can also provide an incentive for sustainable forest management.

The theory is that by providing a clear 'point of difference' in the market, between products from responsibly managed forests and those that are not, customers and consumers can choose which product they want to support.

Markets have responded.

More than seven thousand companies in eighty-four countries participate in the FSC system. Almost nine hundred forest managers in seventy-six countries, representing more than nine hundred million hectares of forests and plantations, have been certified to FSC standards.

FSC is not without challenges. The number of hectares certified is not the only measure of FSC success. Ensuring quality control and protecting the system's integrity provide a constant source of tension.

Equally, dealing with the practical problems presented by products using a mixture of sources (FSC and non-FSC) and growing the system in countries where forests have been under the greatest threat create significant challenges.

In its second decade, FSC is developing the experience and systems to work through these issues. In Australia, an FSC initiative was accredited this year to begin building market-based incentives for responsible forest management.

Having an impact

FSC is changing forest management practices. A recent study analysed 'corrective action requests' issued to applicants for FSC certification in Australia and New Zealand.

It found that the most consistent area where the twenty-five companies who have sought FSC certification have needed to change has been in the area of environmental impact.

The most common changes required relate to the protection of rare, threatened and endangered species, the development of management plans to incorporate assessment of environmental impacts, and the use of chemicals.

Other changes included measures to address the maintenance and enhancement of ecological function, the protection of existing ecosystems, soil and water resources, and replicable monitoring of impacts of operations over time.

In order to meet the FSC Principles and Criteria, changes were also required to assess social impacts, consult people affected by operations, co-operate with Indigenous people, and recognise and protect significant sites.

Beyond these immediate changes required of forest managers, FSC has had an important influence on Australia's participation in the international trade in illegal and unsustainably harvested wood.

As a direct result of seeking FSC Chain of Custody certification, Australian Paper, a major supplier of printing and copy paper, switched its sourcing of wood pulp from 'undisclosed' Indonesian suppliers to certified suppliers in New Zealand and Latin America.

Major retailers in Australia are also embracing FSC as a tool to manage their supply chains. Hardware retail chain Bunnings has begun buying imported garden furniture exclusively from FSC certified suppliers.

Even though FSC certified products are only beginning to develop a presence in the Australian market, the impact of FSC can be seen in the paper sector and the 'green building' market.

Paper customers, including book and magazine publishers, custom printers and corporations, are seeking FSC and recycled paper for their publications.

This is creating major pressure on Australian Paper who have sought certification for their mills and have been reviewing their sourcing strategies, including consultation with FSC and its environmental members such as ACF.

The company now has a policy that it will not accept wood for products that will carry the FSC label that does not meet the minimum requirements expressed in the FSC Controlled Wood Standard.

Certification of the company's Tasmanian mills was rejected because suppliers could not meet FSC standards. This has created a reason for commercial interests such as publishers to pressure Tasmanian wood suppliers to change their practices.

Similarly, the work of both the Green Building Council and FSC is helping to generate market pressure within the building supply chain that is providing opportunities for responsible producers and competitive pressure on others.

Household names such as Laminex and Carter Holt Harvey have recently joined companies such as Alpine MDF, AKD Softwoods, The Woodage and Hampton & Larsson as suppliers of FSC certified products to the building industry.

How does it work?

FSC is the only mechanism in Australia today that is facilitating dialogue between all forest stakeholders in way that is open, transparent and treats all participants with equal respect.

FSC is an international, independent, not-for-profit, membership-based organisation. The mission of FSC is to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world's forests.

It works by developing standards for responsible forest management, an extensive chain of custody system, an accreditation system for certification bodies and a distinctive trademark for buyers of forest products.

FSC forest management standards are based on ten Principles of responsible forest management (see www.fsc.org). FSC Chain of Custody allows credible tracking of certified wood through trade and manufacturing to retailers and customers.

Many thousands of products worldwide carry the FSC trademark as a symbol of assurance to customers that the product they are buying is contributing to the spread of responsible forest management.

There are three main FSC labels: FSC Pure (100 percent FSC certified wood); FSC Mixed Sources (a combination of FSC certified material, non-FSC certified 'controlled wood' or recycled product) and FSC Recycled (100 percent post-consumer recycled product).

The FSC governance structure ensures the organisation is independent of any one interest group by requiring an equal balance in power between economic, social and environmental chambers.

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The Board of FSC Australia comprises members from Timbercorp, Paperlinx, West Australian Forest Industries, The Wilderness Society, Australian Conservation Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Timber Communities Australia, Timber Workers for Forests and an individual active in community forestry.

Not plain sailing

FSC does not and should never pretend to solve all the problems of the world's forests. There are still important areas of forest the FSC system hasn't tackled and in most product areas FSC is still developing the scale to be a key influencer.

FSC also faces considerable resistance from conservative interests in the forest sector.

Within a few years of FSC being formed, more than 50 forest certification programs sprang up around the world to mimic FSC in many respects, but without the need to achieve consensus between economic, social and environmental stakeholders.

Many of these now fall under the banner of the Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), an organisation designed to endorse certification programs set up by forest owners without the same stakeholder consensus requirements.

Equally, FSC has its own challenges. Many stem from the need to hold a consensus position between a broad range of stakeholders. FSC deals with these challenges by establishing appropriate processes.

For example, chemicals continue to be an issue in forestry, particularly plantations. FSC asked its economic, social and environmental members to each nominate an independent expert to a Pesticide Policy Review Group (PPAG).

The PPAG will provide expert advice to the FSC Board on requests from certified companies for special permission for the use of highly hazardous chemicals. It will encourage reduced chemical use, a process which has won the support of all chambers.

Another example has been concerns over the certification of Australian Paper's Reflex office paper. Environmental stakeholders have been concerned material from high conservation value forests may still find its way into Reflex.

Australian Paper is required by FSC to ensure any non-FSC certified material that is used in Mixed Sources labelled products excludes material from forests where management practices may endanger high conservation values.

FSC accredited certification bodies are required to audit Australian Paper's control of these issues. In addition, FSC Australia has organised a series of meetings where stakeholders have been able to discuss their concerns with the company.

The FSC Australia Board will be preparing a set of guidelines for certification bodies on the identification of areas where there is a major risk that wood may be being sourced from areas of high conservation value.

Ultimately, FSC is a process-driven system. Where shortcomings are identified, fair processes are devised to address those issues. This means the system can produce outcomes that retain the engagement of all stakeholders.

Michael Spencer is the CEO of Forest Stewardship Council of Australia.
COPYRIGHT 2007 Australian Conservation Foundation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Forest Stewardship Council
Author:Spencer, Michael
Publication:Habitat Australia
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 2007
Words:1381
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