Opinion & Analysis

To save the forests, FSC must save itself
Richard Z Donovan (Senior Vice President (Forestr) · Rainforest Alliance

On the eve of the Member’s Assembly, when the real business of the General Assembly voting gets underway, there is a palpable undercurrent in the membership that suggests members are impatient for change in the way the organization manages itself.

zoom (© FSC A.C.) © FSC A.C.Few disagree that for the last 20 years the FSC has been the flag bearer for responsible forest management globally, driving positive changes in forest practice for the benefit of forest communities and the environment. But there is also a grumbling sense that key issues remain unresolved, that all three chambers are dissatisfied with how their interests are met, and that the organization that manages this whole process is grinding to a halt under the weight of its own democracy and bureaucracy.

Whether you consider 20 to still be young age or a sign of adulthood, as the Minister of Forest Economy and Sustainable Development from the Republic of the Congo, H.E. Henri Djombo mentioned at the Gala Dinner, there is certainly a sense that FSC’s coming of age is urgent. Prior to the meetings this week, this sense that the FSC needs to “grow up” was perhaps best reflected in the significant number of motions addressing the question of governance and system integrity.

While some motions have been withdrawn this week, mostly in response to the FSC IC analysis that many of the issues covered were already works in progress within the organization, it would be wrong for the FSC leadership to assume that the membership felt reassured that everything was on track.

FSC should “reboot”

As the Rainforest Alliance and NEPCon pointed out at the beginning of the week, there is a need to “reboot” the FSC. The well-attended FSC v2.0 side meeting, and Wednesday’s overflowing ‘Restoration and conversion – a vision for the future’ session demonstrate keen interest in tackling some of those ongoing – and to date intractable – issues within the FSC system. But none of them can be tackled if the organization itself is not given an overhaul.

The areas of concern are clear:

  • FSC must do more to drive market demand – it urgently needs a marketing strategy that tackles both consumers’ and business-to-business needs to raise the profile of the tick mark, and hence the demand for FSC products
  • FSC International must become a top-notch business – the FSC system is a market-oriented mechanism, and it needs a professional staff focused on operating at a business level
  • FSC must follow its own rules – motions should be fully implemented and major changes should come from the membership, not be self-generated
  • There must be greater financial transparency and accountability to give assurance to the membership that funds are being directed in the most effective way
  • FSC must be more mindful of the impact that rapid changes to the system – a system that is seen as increasingly complex – are having on all stakeholders and specifically on certificate holders, who often have to implement changes in short timeframes.

It is reassuring to see FSC IC starting to address many of these core issues, as was highlighted in Sunday’s strategic planning session and in many sessions this week. To truly assuage the concerns of members from all chambers, a global strategy that helps drive forest management certification, manage risk, build capacity in the global south, address marketing issues, and which focuses on system integrity is urgently needed. Not only must the strategy be clearly defined, but it must also be successfully implemented. Otherwise the elephant in the room will return larger, louder and harder to contain in three years’ time.

Richard Donovan is Senior Vice President (Forestry) of the Rainforest Alliance and a founding member of FSC. This is his seventh General Assembly.