Opinion & Analysis

Taking FSC to the next level
Arnold van Kreveld (Ulucus) (Consultant)

WWF and IKEA have been partners since 2002, with forests comprising the core of their work together. WWF and IKEA strongly support FSC, but they also stress that the General Assembly must take a close look at FSC’s priorities. Where can FSC have the biggest impact on forests and people and how can it become even more efficient?

zoomTAKING FSC TO THE NEXT LEVELTAKING FSC TO THE NEXT LEVELAnders Hildeman, Global Forestry Manager, IKEA Group says: “I am looking forward to this General Assembly. It will be an extremely high energy meeting.” Those who have attended the General Assembly before know this to be true - it always is. The 500 attendants will use every available minute to discuss motions, strategy, expectations and worries, and to catch up with colleagues and friends.

From 7-14 September, the 7th General Assembly in Seville is the place to be for anyone involved in responsible forest management.

It is Anders’ third consecutive General Assembly. Six years ago he worked for SCA, a leading global hygiene and forest products company with roots in Sweden. Five years ago, after 26 years with SCA, he accepted a job at IKEA and in that new position participated in FSC’s General Assembly at Malaysia. “I very much look forward to the interaction between all stakeholders. FSC is a truly unique forum. And although I have concerns about some developments in the organization, we should not lose sight of what we have accomplished and look at finding solutions.”

Changing the playing field

Rod Taylor is no job hopper either. He is currently WWF International’s Forests Director, before which he worked in a number of different positions within WWF, including a decade based in Southeast Asia. His knowledge of forest issues, like that of Anders Hildeman, is based on extensive practical experience in the field.

Rod has some worries too: “Involvement of all members is the life-blood of FSC and what sets it apart from other certification systems. But FSC is pulled in many different directions. Considering the state and fate of forests worldwide it is important for FSC to focus on its core business, its standards and systems must drive improved biodiversity, social benefits and economic viability, in short better forest management.”

Anders agrees: “In my opinion the most valuable contribution the FSC has made is that it provides a platform for dialogue and conflict resolution. Unfortunately, systems tend to complicate themselves. Most of us don’t have the time to keep track of all processes that take place simultaneously, nor to read the constant flow of guidance documents. So, ironically, FSC’s internal democracy in effect can, at times, make the organization less open and transparent. ”

WWF and IKEA are very different organizations. IKEA is a retailer. Its vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional and affordable home furnishing products. This commitment has been extended to apply to the social and environmental impacts of IKEA’s supply chain. To implement this strategy, IKEA realized it needed partners that share this vision and have the expertise and power to improve conditions and deliver results on the ground. WWF is an NGO. Its focus expanded from species and protected areas to building a future in which people live in harmony with nature. For this to happen, markets must be transformed, and thus partnerships with frontrunner companies make a lot of sense.

The forestry aspect of the WWF and IKEA partnership needs a strong and focused FSC. First, as a basis for its own work in the forest, and secondly, and increasingly so, because an important component of the partnership is to promote FSC with regional and national governments. This approach has already catalysed some important improvements in regulatory frameworks, for example in China, Russia, Laos and Viet Nam.

Making a difference in the forest

Although Rod and Anders may at times be critical of FSC, they see great potential and realize that the achievements of the partnership would never have been possible without this global, game-changing example of a non-governmental, market-driven initiative. And these achievements are impressive. The partnership has been involved in the certification of 80 per cent of the 3 million hectares of FSC-certified forests in China.

Russia is another success story. When the partnership started its work, only 200,000 hectares were FSC-certified. Today, that figure has risen to over 38 million hectares. Of course, not only because of the partnership, but the partnership has been instrumental in this growth. Key activities include promotion of timber from well-managed sources, increasing consumer awareness, promoting responsible purchasing policies, supporting the national forest policy dialogue, the introduction of the High Conservation Value Forests concept and developing manuals and training courses for Russian universities.

It is not just the big figures that count. An equally positive story can be told about rattan certification in Laos. In 2011, the world’s first FSC-certified rattan forest premiered in Laos. The current total of certified forests used for rattan production is 33,392 hectares. A benefit-sharing system has been established with the consensus of villagers. Rattan harvesters agreed to contribute 17 per cent of their income to community projects and forest management.

WWF is expanding the project and is helping companies like Danlao, a certified rattan products manufacturer in Laos, to strengthen their capacities in design, marketing and export. IKEA and the German, Swiss and Swedish governments support the project, as does the Lao national government and a number of regional governmental organizations. This is important; while some products made from certified rattan coming out of partnership projects go to IKEA, the majority does not. Swiss retailer Coop recently placed a new order for rattan baskets, showing that there is indeed demand for FSC-certified rattan.

“We’re proud,” says Anders Hildeman, “but we are far from perfect. We are learning and adjusting as we go. Working in the partnership we will inevitably go wrong sometimes, but doing nothing in order to avoid mistakes is not an option.” He hesitates. “On the contrary, we need to reinforce our efforts. For example, we are now linking the certified products from our projects to our supply chains. This means we are enabling better forest management and at the same time introducing a commercial incentive for certification.”

Improvements in the regulatory framework

WWF’s Rod Taylor can relate to examples like the one about rattan production in Laos. “I am always excited when I meet someone whose living conditions have improved as a result of our projects. It makes this job great.” He smiles: “Less inspiring, but probably more important, is our work on the regulatory framework. Improvements at the regional and national level typically have a much greater effect on people and nature.” After a pause he adds: “When we started our work with IKEA we had no idea that this would become such an important part of the work. It is simply where the problems and opportunities of this long-term partnership have led us.”

A good example, once again, is Russia. Because of contradictions between FSC-requirements and Russian forest legislation some of the most responsible - FSC-certified- companies (including IKEA’s forest operations) were fined for not following national legislation. Something clearly had to change. WWF coordinated participation of dozens of NGOs in discussions about the Russian Forest Policy. IKEA, working with other frontrunners, also provided input to the modernization of the forest regulatory framework. WWF and IKEA kept each other informed, thus contributing to a strong and consistent message from NGO’s and business. This helped the government in deciding how to adapt regulations. Significant improvements were implemented, although not all problems have been solved and the work continues.

Anders Hildeman says, “Influencing legislation and trade in forest products is not something IKEA traditionally has been involved in. We are a retailer with focus on the consumers. However, what IKEA can, and must, do is to explain what is needed from a business perspective in order to be able to work in a more responsible manner. After that it is up to governments and civil society to decide. This is where the cooperation with WWF has proven particularly influential. When we speak with one voice, governments are more likely to listen.”

Viet Nam and China are good examples as well. Several regional governments in Viet Nam are now promoting FSC certification for smallholder acacia plantations. In China, the partnership introduced the High Conservation Value Forest concept, and this has since been incorporated into the National Guideline for Developing and Implementing the Forest Management Plan.

FSC’s role

Back to FSC and the General Assembly. Rod Taylor has a strong hope: “FSC refreshes its vision and develops a global strategy that charts a strong way forward. This would see FSC helping forestry become a force for good in the places that matter most.” Rod points out that the global demand for forest products is increasing, and will continue to do so for the next decades. “Whether people like it or not, the area of plantations and production forests will grow. This is not necessarily bad news. If new plantations are established on degraded land, and aligned with the aspirations of local communities, everyone can benefit. Commercial interests can also motivate sound stewardship that protects vulnerable forests from illegal logging, encroachment or conversion to farmland. FSC can lead the way to a larger global wood supply with less impact on forests”

“FSC success should be measured by what it achieves in the forest, and we need to find ways to measure this impact,” says Anders Hildeman. “We also need to set the expectations right. FSC is not a solution for all forestry related issues. As the organization grows and becomes more complex, I believe that our responsibility is to prioritize, and to adapt FSC’s current governance and business model to this new reality. That way, FSC can provide viable and attractive alternatives to unsustainable logging practices and land conversion. And we better make sure these alternatives are attractive to governments, businesses and local people because, in the end, it is they who will decide how their forests are going to be managed.”

Fact Box WWF and IKEA partnership