"So long as wood retains its importance
in human life, logging will remain an essential human activity.
Just as with farming, the issue is not eliminating the practice
but making it more environmentally sustainable."
Forest Futures, Population Action International, 2000
do companies like IKEA, Starbucks and Andersen Windows have in common?
They all use forest products and they all care about how their patterns
of consumption affect global forest health.
Business leaders in a wide range of sectors are increasingly exercising
the market influence of their companies to improve the health of
the worlds forests. This growing trend among retailers, suppliers,
procurers and specifiers reflects rising social concerns about the
relationship between forest products consumption and the sustainability
of forest management practices, both local and global. Whether motivated
by opportunities to establish their brand identity with consumers,
a desire to develop risk management practices or simply a commitment
to do the right thing, individual businesses are recognizing that
they have the power to make a difference in determining how forests
Over the years, there has been much debate about sustainability.
Yet, for all the energy spent on the topic, no clear and practical
definition of how to achieve sustainability has been agreed upon
by all interest groups. Partly in response to this, many business
leaders have moved beyond the debate about defining sustainability
and are communicating their visions in terms of responsibility.
Responsible patterns of behavior are a means to work toward sustainability
while the debate about its definition and implementation continues.
Because responsibility conjures different images and is open to
different interpretations, it is defined and validated through an
inclusive dialogue based on shared values and available information.
Responsible practices are characterized by a process of continual
improvement, the development of new market tools for implementing
practices and measuring progress and a generally high degree of
public scrutiny. Moreover, they require active engagement of business
leaders with civil society.
This article seeks to advance the dialogue about responsible business
practices as they relate to the worlds forests. To promote
an understanding of responsible actions, it begins by briefly examining
some of the key issues that are being addressed in the marketplace.
The next section turns to some of the mechanisms that are available
to help business consumers use the power of purchasing and sales
to improve the health of the worlds forests.
While a complex web of factors determines the health of the worlds
forests, several issues have come under scrutiny by environmental,
social and business interests. These include illegal logging, forests
of unique or high
conservation value, well-managed forests and responsible
While recognized as a global problem, illegal logging is difficult
both to define and to identify. Broadly, it includes activities
that are not in compliance with applicable laws, such as harvesting
in protected areas, exceeding allocated harvest levels and operating
without license. Analysis by the Brazilian government estimates
that up to 80 percent of harvesting in the Amazon basin is illegal.
In Indonesia, this number is 70 percent and in Cameroon, 60 percent.
In addition to the rampant environmental degradation caused by illegal
logging, these activities also tarnish the reputation of the global
forest products industry. Because consumers and retailers may not
be able to tell where the wood they buy came from, all wood is suspect
until it can be proven that it is derived from a legal forest operation.
Moreover, in the highly commoditized forest products industry, cheap
wood entering the market from illegal operations tends to set the
bottom price in the market, impacting the bottom line of legitimate
Forests of High Conservation Value
In addition to the wood products, forests provide a multitude of
less-recognized services to society, such as watershed protection,
preservation of biodiversity, global climate moderation, wildlife
habitat and resilience to natural disturbances. Different forest
ecosystems around the world provide unique combinations of these
broad values. Moreover, while many forests can be actively managed
to produce wood products while maintaining a stream of ecosystem
services, other unique areas and ecosystems are particularly sensitive
to disturbance. These areas of high conservation value require specific
protection that often constrains or excludes active harvesting.
Beyond issues of illegal logging and high conservation value forests,
the quality of forest management practices varies considerably worldwide.
At the worst, poor forest harvesting practices can damage water
quality, destroy wildlife habitat, create wildfire risks, deplete
soil productivity and potentially destroy ecosystems.
These are by no means inevitable outcomes of forest management,
which has been an evolving professional practice for over a century.
Well-managed forests produce a stream of forest products and services
with limited negative side effects by managing to standards that
minimize environmental risks. While there is no single agreed-upon
forest management standard worldwide, several evolving mechanisms
recognize a well-managed forest.
The annual global consumption of approximately 1.6 billion cubic
meters of wood is not spread evenly across the world. Per capita
wood use in the United States, for example, is 15 times that of
China. It has been estimated that 80 percent of the worlds
population have not yet achieved a level of paper use that is considered
necessary to meet basic needs for literacy and communication (Forest
Futures, Population Action International, 2000).
As populations and levels of development continue to grow, it will
be critical to increase efficiency of wood use through engineering
and design, as well as to consider the appropriate use of wood and
potential substitute materials. While some may argue that wood use
should be displaced by greater reliance on steel or agricultural
fibers, these trade-offs must be examined within a larger context,
as forest products can often be deployed with less overall environmental
impact than other substitute products.
"I think that if a company our size and posture can pull
this off, and I know that we can, then we will be a catalyst for
change among a lot of companies."
Arthur Blank, Founder, The Home Depot
While the challenges facing the worlds forests are serious,
new business practices are being developed to harness the power
of the marketplace to improve forest management and health. As business
leaders examine their role in using and promoting responsible forest
products, many are discovering that these practices are not only
good for the environment, but they also benefit corporate bottom
Recently, large retailers such as IKEA, The Home Depot, Lowes,
Lanoga Corp. and Wickes Inc. have adopted responsible forest products
purchasing policies that favor products from well-managed forests
and committed to avoiding those from illegal sources and high conservation
value areas. Other companies such as Nike, Andersen Windows, Centex,
Norm Thompson and Starbucks are actively pursing responsible forest
products purchasing in their production lines, capital improvements
and catalogs. By using their business position to support the market
for responsible forest products, these companies, and many others,
are creating demand for improved forest management.
The responsible business practices of leadership companies are facilitated
by market mechanisms such as forest certification, evaluative tools
like life cycle analysis and collaborative engagement processes
with other businesses and environmental and social interest groups.
"We see certification systems
as one of the most
important methods for encouraging and rewarding production practices
that rise to the highest global standards."
Michael Conroy, Senior Program Officer,
The Ford Foundation
Independent certification is one of the most powerful tools for
providing credible assurance to consumers that they are purchasing
responsible forest products. Under this approach, an independent
organization develops standards of good forest management, promulgates
methods for auditing forests based on those standards and accredits
independent auditors. To be credible, forest certification must:
be conducted by an independent third party organization;
provide meaningful involvement to all environmental, social
and economic stakeholders;
employ consistent forest management standards.
Nearly a decade ago, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) developed
and promulgated global criteria for forest certification that have
been used around the world. In North America, other initiatives
such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, the Canadian Standards
Association and the American Tree Farm System provide alternative
In addition, to be useful to businesses and consumers, certification
schemes must also track the wood from the forest through the mills,
producers and distributors to the retail outlets. In this way, purchasers
may feel confident that the forest products they are buying are
derived from certified well-managed forests.
Life Cycle Assessment
Is it more responsible to use wood than steel in building construction?
Should wood pulp be replaced with fiber from intensively managed
agricultural crops such as flax, cotton or hemp?
Responsible consumption of forest products does not necessarily
mean avoiding wood in favor of other materials. Wood, after all,
is a natural, renewable product with many sound environmental qualities.
Nonetheless, these trade-offs are not obvious, and businesses are
increasingly using evaluative tools such as life cycle analysis
to help identify the right material for a specific use. Life cycle
analysis tools are based on using a consistent sustainability framework
for material use based on long-term environmental impact.
Historically, there has been a false dichotomy between business
and environmental interests, created in large part by the extremes
on both sides. However, there is an increasing recognition among
leaders in businesses, as well as among environmental and social
organizations, that much can be gained from collaborative engagement
around issues of responsible forest management.
The Skamania Initiative is one of these opportunities. Named after
a lodge near Portland, OR, the Skamania Initiative is a network
of leading businesses advocating environmentally-appropriate and
socially-responsible forest products production and procurement
as a standard market practice. The business participants in the
Initiative believe that it is their responsibility to connect the
business of producing and consuming paper and wood products with
the conservation of forests. Together, with the Certified Forest
Products Council as a host organization, these leading businesses
seek to develop practical tools and market mechanisms that encourage
business to incorporate procurement, consumption and sales practices
that promote the conservation, protection and restoration of the
Another opportunity to develop the broad middle ground through constructive
collaboration is the Forest Leadership Forum, which will take place
from April 25 to 27, 2002 in Atlanta, GA. For the first time in
North America, the forum will convene environmentalists, the forest
products industry and retailers and buyers to highlight shared values
and opportunities to promote trade in responsible forest products.
The forum will explore many of the issues addressed in this article,
including illegal logging, forests of high conservation value, responsible
consumption and certified well-managed forests. While there are
many different perspectives on these issues, the goal is to openly
address the key challenges and opportunities facing the forest products
industry in the 21st century. Together, forum participants will
seek ways to use the power of the marketplace to promote responsible
David Ford is president of the Certified Forest
Products Council. Additional information about the topics addressed
in this article can be found in The Forest Industry in the 21st Century,
published by World Wide Fund for Nature. Visit www.panda.org /Forests4Life.