Ensuring sustainability is too broad a task for forest certification alone
April 12, 2018

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the most credible forest certification scheme that exists. Its deliberative process, by which social, environmental and economic actors define what sustainability means in a specific geographic context, has forever changed the concept of sustainable forest management.

It is therefore sad to note that the FSC has been unable to root out certain problems, notably the lack of quality of its certificates. This again became strikingly clear when the UK Competent Authority fined a British timber operator for breaching EU regulations prohibiting the import and sale of illegally harvested timber. The company was relying on its FSC Chain of Custody.

Such problems are not new. Ten years ago a number of NGO and private sector members of the FSC published a paper, Regaining Credibility and Rebuilding Support – changes the FSC needs to make to ensure it regains and maintain its credibility, presenting clear recommendations. The main concern raised was the variable, and too often inadequate, quality of certificates issued by certification bodies in FSC’s name. Most signatories to that statement, including Fern, have since left the FSC. Now Greenpeace, another signatory, has stated that it won’t be renewing its membership.

In its March statement, Greenpeace International urged companies to focus on re-using and recycling wood and paper products. Greenpeace still sees the FSC as the most credible scheme; however, if a company really needs virgin wood or fibre, Greenpeace advises that, besides FSC certification, additional due diligence is often required to ensure imports meet companies’ ‘no deforestation’ requirements.  This is especially true when sourcing from high-risk regions where democracy and civil society are weak and corruption is high.

Forest certification, although an important tool, is clearly insufficient on its own to prove legality, sustainability, or No Deforestation/No Peatland & No Exploitation (NDPE) commitments – the new mantras for companies sourcing forest-risk commodities such as palm oil and soy. Unfortunately, there is no ‘quick fix’ to fulfil these commitments. Processes that lay the groundwork for real governance improvements are needed for companies to achieve their commitments on no deforestation and NDPE. Fern believes a new instrument, addressing due diligence of forest-risk commodity imports may be needed as part of a broader Action Plan on Deforestation.