GUEST BLOG: Responsible forestry critical to achieving true 'deforestation-free' supply chains
With a growing global population and increased consumption per capita, the pressure both on forests and land, for forest products and for agriculture, will increase. There is a need to improve the output from each hectare of land as well as improving the yield of every unit of wood or crop that is produced to maximize the benefits.
In the past year, a number of encouraging pledges have been made from major global companies to achieve deforestation-free production, supply chains or finance. These commitments show awareness of the limits of natural resources and that companies no longer want to contribute to environmental impacts caused by rampant conversion of natural forests to other land uses.
While commitment to go "deforestation-free" is an important starting point, it is not an active solution. Not doing something or avoiding something is likely to trigger movement away from the problem rather than contributing to the development of solutions. Progressive companies will have to commit to more than just avoiding deforestation and actively pursue responsible forest management as one path to combatting forest degradation and eventually, deforestation.
Strangely, forestry is often confused with deforestation, due to a misperception that forestry is simply the business of cutting down trees. The modern concept of sustainable forest management is fundamentally about ensuring that forests continue to provide benefits in the long term. It encompasses the social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainability and should not be confused with "tree mining" practices or clearing of forests for other land uses.
Forest management in itself is not a silver bullet. It requires that the price paid for the wood and other forest products makes it worthwhile to invest in maintaining and managing the forest. Forest governance and law enforcement is of essence. Illegal logging undermines the market for sustainably harvested wood and reduces the incentive to manage for the long-term. And forest certification is a tool that has been developed precisely to provide responsible forest managers with a market incentive to move towards sustainability.
Certification an important tool to measure responsible forest management
If you are a forest manager, it can be quite challenging to assess the impacts of management practises, and even then, what is considered sustainable practice is an area of considerable debate. For a company like IKEA, being three or four steps removed from the forest in the supply chain, it is even harder for us to assess the impact on the forest.
Many companies have chosen to rely on forest certification as a proxy for responsible forest management and chain-of-custody certification to demonstrate the origin of the wood. It is quite surprising that legislators in the EU and US have not given clearer recognition to certification, as it serves the dual purpose of complying with legislation and moving forestry towards sustainability. This is also why IKEA and WWF, through our partnership, have chosen to actively promote Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and to date have contributed to close to 40 million hectares of certified forests. Most of this is in areas where the standards of forest management generally are low and where certification is an important tool for improvement.
All who have been involved for a long time in forest certification agree that it is a system with strengths and weaknesses. IKEA’s experience has shown that FSC certification, in most cases, contributes to significantly better forest management, especially in the most challenging areas. However, if the FSC system becomes more and more risk averse, it will be less able to engage in the most challenging areas, like the intact forest landscapes in the tropics and boreal areas. We have to accept that forest certification on its own will not save these forests but maybe it can contribute to bringing these forests under management in a responsible way, which safeguards many of the important values that otherwise will be lost.
In order to create this trust in certification, necessary to take this leap of faith, we must be able to demonstrate its benefits of certification objectively. This is why, IKEA, Kingfisher and Tetra Pak, in cooperation with the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and ISEAL Alliance, have started the Value & Impact Analysis (VIA) initiative to develop a methodology to assess the impacts of FSC certification. This is a process that will involve consultations with stakeholders to achieve consensus on what should be measured. The results from the project will help the companies assess whether their sustainability strategies associated with forests have been successful and if we are truly moving towards becoming People and Planet Positive.