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The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the ‘gold standard’ certification scheme for sustainable forest management.  It’s the only scheme supported by a wide range of campaigning environmental organisations like Greenpeace and WWF, and this year it celebrated its 20th anniversary. 

FSC sets a standard for forest management to promote timber produced in a way that is environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable.  To make sure that natural forests and plantations are being managed so that future generations can benefit from the wide range of services provided by forests, things like climate change stabilisation and carbon storage; species habitat; plants for medicines; and homes, fuel, food and livelihoods for millions of people.  There’s a lot more in forests than just trees.

I’ve just returned from FSC’s seventh General Assembly. This takes place every 3 years and is a chance for members to get together to share their experiences, celebrate their successes, and make decisions that will determine the future direction of the FSC.

I wanted to be part of this because FSC is incredibly important to Marks & Spencer.  We have made a commitment to only source sustainable wood, and that relies on our suppliers being able to access FSC certified timber in operations all over the world.  We need FSC wood to be available not just in the UK but in Brazil, Turkey, Sweden, China, Slovakia, North America and lots of other countries.  In fact we use 96 different species from 45 different countries.

Marks & Spencer asks suppliers to buy FSC wood not only for the products we sell – our furniture for example, but also for the wood used to build and fit our stores,to make the wood and paper products we use to run our business, in our marketing materials and our packaging. If we can’t get FSC we make sure that the most vulnerable and unique aspects of forests are protected.  Unlike lots of other companies we don’t stop at just checking the wood is legally harvested.  We work with our suppliers to exclude plantations converted from natural forests, to make sure indigenous communities’ rights are considered, and that high conservation value areas are protected.  It’s a tough job but we think it’s worth it.

So what did I learn at the FSC Assembly? 

I discovered that roads are the biggest cause of forest destruction. When one road is built other roads follow.  And with roads come trucks, people, pollution, hunting, fire and many other things that can degrade the forest.  And not only is degradation highly contagious, it can undermine the case for protection.  It’s claimed that 95% of deforestation takes place within 50 km of a road.  That’s a strong argument for very careful landscape planning.

The most vulnerable areas are called intact forest landscapes (IFLs) and include some of the great boreal forests of Russia and Canada, as well as tropical forests like the Amazon.  But not all IFLs are on the scale of these great forests and small blocks can also be highly valuable, for example in creating safe corridors for migratory species to move from one area to another. 

But of course everything is about balance.  And sometimes making an area economically valuable can create a business case for conservation and allow traditional communities to contribute to land and forest management and continue to co-exist in harmony with nature.  The role of FSC is to balance these different needs and priorities, to guide the individuals and organisations who have to make planning and development decisions, and to support all the parties who manage these forests to do so sustainably. Our role as buyers is to make sure they are rewarded by specifying FSC in our contracts. 

I also learned a lot about how plantations are going to be increasingly important in the future and how FSC can help with restoration of degraded areas. But I’m going to save these for a future blog...

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