As we gather this week at the Forest Stewardship Council® General Assembly in Vancouver, Canada, I look back at the long-held Rainforest Alliance belief in the power of sustainable forestry certification. From the beginning, we understood that to ensure responsibly managed forests for the long term, the environmental movement must work with the individuals, communities, and businesses that use forests for their livelihoods, for they have the strongest incentive to conserve them. Thus, we launched our unique approach to forest conservation in 1989 with our SmartWood timber certification program. After the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio failed to produce an agreement to stop deforestation, we joined a group of businesses, environmentalists and community leaders to create a revolutionary concept that became the Forest Stewardship Council ®(FSC®).
Our shared vision for responsible forestry
In 1993, the Rainforest Alliance was a core part of the over 100 participants representing economic, social, indigenous and environmental interests in Toronto, Canada, for the FSC Founding Assembly. We set out to create a voluntary, market-based approach that would improve forestry practices worldwide and connect responsible forestry businesses with burgeoning markets for sustainably sourced timber.
“I am proud of the role the Rainforest Alliance played in helping create the FSC, and our continued role in driving sustainable forestry for decades,” states Richard Donovan, Senior Vice President and President, Forestry, the Rainforest Alliance. “Back at our first GA, we could never have envisioned the scale and scope that the FSC has achieved. When we founded the organization, we placed very high importance on recognizing good management as a parallel benefit to helping create and drive market value. This was a foundational principle that continues to this day: FSC must succeed in the marketplace and with the certificate holders.”
At that time of the first FSC GA, it would have been difficult to imagine that the FSC would become the most respected forestry standard-setter in the world, operating in over 80 countries, certifying over 190 million hectares and representing over 10 percent of the world’s working forests.
Our impacts and contributions to FSC
Over the 25 years that the Rainforest Alliance has been involved with the FSC, from its founding through today, we continue to actively participate in the continual improvement of the standards and system as a voting member of the economic chamber. In the field, as a leading certifying body in the FSC program, we have certified over 34 million hectares of forests, an area approximately the size of Germany, across more than 40 countries. With our global team of auditors and local partners, we have audited some of the largest FSC forest management certificates in the boreal forests and have certified the greatest number of community and indigenous operations to FSC standards.
In addition to our impact on the ground, the FSC and the Rainforest Alliance have helped drive consumer awareness of, and demand for, responsibly produced forest products. The FSC label and Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seals are visible brands that provide the public with a simple way to identify and support products coming from well-managed forests. Thousands of paper and wood products carry the well-recognized FSC label and Rainforest Alliance seal, including products as diverse as copy paper, household paper products, packaging, furniture, guitars and much more. Consumers can look for the seal or check out the Rainforest Alliance Find Certified Products web page to find product brands and retailers.
FSC General Assembly: balanced voting on complex issues
As we engage in our 8th General Assembly as an organization, the Rainforest Alliance team remains committed to our shared mission and the unique stakeholder engagement through discussion and voting on changes to the FSC system. For a motion to pass there must be consensus between three representative groups: economic, social and environmental chambers. This balanced voting process differentiates the FSC from other schemes. As an active member we come prepared to engage in complex discussions and to support motions that improve the FSC system, stay current on forestry issues, and help certification clients reach their sustainability goals. The General Assembly is also a time for us to engage with colleagues, diverse stakeholder groups, and certification clients to discuss the future of sustainable forestry and the FSC system, and reflect upon the success of this revolutionary idea that transformed conservation efforts.