Developing a Stewardship Standard for Alternative Natural Fibers

As the global demand for fiber-based products continues to rise, many companies are seeking sources that avoid high-conservation value forest regions. Bamboo, kenaf, hemp and other “purpose grown natural fibers” provide viable options for companies seeking alternatives to wood, as well as sustainable livelihoods for rural communities. Moreover, many of these crops have attributes that make them attractive in their own right: they are rapidly renewable, can be cultivated without intensive agrochemical inputs or water use and may prove useful in the restoration of degraded lands.

Just as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification safeguards forests, there is a need to ensure that management of alternative natural fibers is handled responsibly. Companies looking to source these materials are calling for a standard to promote and enforce globally respected environmental and social criteria among producers of alternative natural fibers.

To help achieve this goal, the Rainforest Alliance has embarked on the development of a rigorous global stewardship standard for the management of plants that contain these fibers—crops that can be used to produce a range of goods, including paper, packaging, construction materials and textiles. Our aim is to ensure the responsible management of alternative natural fibers by providing growers and their buyers with a mechanism to evaluate environmental, social and economic performance.

The Process

The Rainforest Alliance initiated a standard-development process in July 2013. As a member of the ISEAL Alliance—the international body that serves as an umbrella for social and environmental accreditation and labeling schemes—the Rainforest Alliance is following ISEAL guidelines for the development of third-party, values-based standard systems. A consensus-based Technical Committee is leading the process and has scheduled two rounds of public consultations to ensure that a broad range of perspectives is incorporated.

The result will be a "generic" alternative natural fiber standard for purpose-grown plants, complemented by additional crop-specific criteria for bamboo. Other crop-specific requirements—e.g., for kenaf, rattan, Miscanthus—will be added based on demand and feasibility.

Public consultation is currently closed. Please check back later for the next draft and consultation period.

Click here to view the Alternative Natural Fiber Standard Draft PDF.

Key Issues

The standard-development process will address the following key issues:

  • Environmental Impacts: crop invasiveness, land conversion, biodiversity protection, soil and water quality and agrochemical use
  • Social Performance: labor rights, working conditions and benefits to local communities and indigenous peoples
  • Sustainable Production: sustained yield, irrigation and soil productivity
  • Continuous Improvement: management planning, monitoring and adaptive management

The Rainforest Alliance will incorporate the most current and reputable scientific research, expert analysis and the perspectives of stakeholders throughout the entire process.

Relationship to Other Standards and Systems

The development of an independent standard for alternative natural fibers is designed to fill an identified gap in order to ensure that production meets credible third-party social and environmental criteria.

While other credible systems certify some crop-based fibers, such as bamboo and rattan, there are limitations to the geographies and/or the ecosystems in which they operate. These limitations are particularly evident when it comes to bamboo grown as an exotic crop, in an agricultural setting, or otherwise outside of a natural forest ecosystem.

As this process unfolds, the Rainforest Alliance will collaborate with the FSC, the Sustainable Agriculture Network, the Roundtable for Sustainable Biomaterials and other certification systems to explore synergies and opportunities for alignment.

FAQs

Why develop a stewardship standard for alternative natural fibers?
What are “Alternative Natural Fibers”?
Aren’t ANFs covered by other certification standards?
Will this become a certification standard with on-product labeling?
Who is guiding the process and how will a final standard be approved?
Why is the standard focused specifically on crop management and not also on performance measures that cover processing?
Is anything being done to address the ability of smallholders to adopt the ANF standard?
How will enterprises be evaluated to the ANF standard, and how will the risk-screening process work?
How will you decide which performance measures to include?
How can I participate in the standard development process?

Technical Committee

  • Kathleen Buckingham, World Resources Institute (WRI)
  • Gary Dodge, FSC-US
  • Keila Hand, World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
  • Camille Rebelo, EcoPlanet Bamboo
  • Jonathan M. Scherch, Resource Fiber LLC
  • Peg Stern, Consultant
  • Rick Underhil, Kimberly-Clark Corporation

Rainforest Alliance Project Team

  • Richard Donovan and Walter Smith, Project Supervision
  • Karen Steer, Consultant, Project Manager

Receive Updates and Opportunities to Participate

The ANF Standard Consultative Forum provides a mechanism for interested stakeholders to receive updates and to provide ongoing, direct and meaningful input into the standard development process.

Please email Karen Steer, Project Manager, to join the Consultative Forum.

Click here to view the Alternative Natural Fiber Standard Draft PDF.

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