Opinion & Analysis

Looking back, looking forward: Former Director, Heiko Liedeker, on overcoming a financial crisis and reinforcing the FSC brand
Heiko Liedeker (Former Director) · FSC

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has come a long way since I was Executive Director from 2001 to 2008. When I came to office there was a major crisis of confidence in FSC’s viability. At the time, FSC was considered a pioneer in the certification market with its three chamber system approach – economically viable, environmentally appropriate, and socially responsible.

zoom (© FSC A.C.) © FSC A.C.However, its financial future was uncertain and, if this innovative system was to succeed, it needed re-organization of its core competencies – standard setting, accreditation and brand management – and a viable business model.

In 1994, it was decided to base FSC’s international headquarters in Oaxaca, Mexico. But as the organization reached out more to donors and constituents globally, it made more sense – strategically and logistically – to relocate our headquarters to North America or Europe; geographical regions with greater accessibility to donors, constituents and market partners.

Several European cities offered to host FSC. In 2003, a generous offer to finance the move, a 25-year guarantee of office space, and strong political and technical support, ultimately led to the decision to move FSC’s operations to Bonn in Germany, while the FSC Asociación civil (A.C.) membership organization remained in Oaxaca, Mexico. The city has proven to be the right choice – and not just monetarily speaking. Bonn’s naming as a United Nations city, along with its growing reputation as a hub for international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), has helped FSC to make a name for itself in the international community.

In the early 2000s, FSC faced many national-level challenges that kept the organization busy at the micro-level, but this came at the cost of diverting energy and focus from developing its global competence and relevance at a macro-level. For FSC to prove it was a formidable global player, it needed a comprehensive review of its core programs – standard setting and accreditation – the standards, policies, and procedures that governed FSC activities and ensured the brand’s credibility. The review of core programs led to the implementation of a comprehensive business model and the creation of FSC’s subsidiary companies: FSC International Center GmbH, to maintain FSC’s standard setting program; Accreditation Services International GmbH, to deliver independent global accreditation, supervision and quality control of certification bodies; and FSC Global Development GmbH, to manage the FSC brand and trademark and provide services to partners and constituents around the world.

These changes led to FSC progressing from being almost exclusively financed through donations, through being self-sustaining, to being a net donor able to invest in good forest stewardship.

When FSC was conceived, it was full of innovative thinking. Its participatory decision-making model has become a template for policy development far beyond the forest sector. Various other certification schemes learned from its business model. And even FSC’s fiercest competitor – founded explicitly to develop an alternative to FSC – has adopted many of the FSC’s concepts. The challenges FSC faces today are different: certification of globally traded commodities is well accepted in the mainstream today. And while it needs FSC’s continued attention, I hope that the organization will once again focus on innovation and global leadership, and break new ground for others to follow. The FSC must not be afraid to go where no one else will – facilitating dialogs, encouraging thinking, and continuing to be an international leader in the forest debate for the next 20 years and beyond. This is its true strength!