Consumers’ call to promote sustainable forestry

Posted on November 1, 2011. Filed under: Forestry/Wetlands |

-The Star-

By choosing the right kind of wood products, consumers can encourage sustainable forestry.

LOGGING is sometimes seen as a dirty word. It throws up emotive images: death and destruction of wildlife and their habitat, and human rights violations of the forest’s indigenous communities, for example.

Research suggests that the direct and indirect causes of forest deterioration are highly complex. Poor logging practices and ineffective government institutions and policies are just two of many factors.

Let’s not kid ourselves, however. We play a part in the story too. Timber is harvested to fulfil a demand in the marketplace. Our wooden flooring, furniture, building formwork and paper – the wood used to make all these come from forests.

Consumer action: By demanding for wood products sourced from sustainably-managed forest, be it wooden doors, timber flooring, furniture or paper, consumers can help promote responsible forestry management.

If the man on the street wants a way of doing his bit, looking for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo is one way of ensuring that the product being bought did not come from a forest where wanton, irresponsible destruction of forest has taken place and the rights of indigenous communities, ignored.

The FSC has existed since 1993 and is widely recognised as having the world’s first and most credible forest certification scheme. Multinationals in tune with the rising collective consciousness of 21st century society know the value of consumer conscience. The first thing you see when you sit down in the toilet at IKEA in Petaling Jaya in Selangor, for example, is a poster telling you about its latest collaboration with FSC and the World Wide Fund for Nature to improve the standards of forest management and availability of certified woods in China.

Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement retailer and Tetra pak, one of the world’s largest packaging companies, have also joined ranks with a growing pool of businesses that have made sustainable wood purchasing part of their company policy.

So why do we still hear horror stories about our depleting rainforests? One reason is: not all logging companies have jumped on the sustainable logging bandwagon. Most retailers cannot say 100% of their products are FSC-certified because there just are not enough certified forests to meet demand. Less than 12% of global forestry is part of any certification scheme, and procuring enough FSC-certified material has been cited by various companies as one of the biggest challenges in meeting targets for the percentage of FSC-certified products they can offer.

Consumer awareness to create that demand remains the missing link. Locally, few, save for those in the industry, know what the “tree with a tick” (the FSC logo) stands for. And as long companies do not see the incentive to source for certified wood for their products, logging companies remain unlikely to follow through. The onus to write the next chapter lies with us, the masses; the world is waiting on us to wise up and start creating more pressure for change.

Guilt-free paper

Thumbprints, a home-grown printing and packaging company in Malaysia that was founded in 1999, has a staff of 300 and supplies customers all the way from Japan to South Africa. Being successful does not mean you cannot be green, however. As printing companies in Malaysia go, Thumbprints are about as green as you get, with two environmental titles from the Asian Print Awards (in 2008 and 2010).

Keen on taking on a green direction, the company decided to source for FSC-certified materials and then got its FSC Chain of Custody Certification. Though ready to embrace sustainable sourcing, company director Tam Wah Fong soon realised the market in Asia was not.

“Sources for FSC paper in Asia are scarce because the demand is almost zero. There is no market, so prices are high because there is no economy of scale,” he explains.

Tam thinks FSC paper is ideal. “It certifies the source of paper pulp to be from well-managed forests, but the question is whether customers are willing to pay the price difference (currently about 15% to 20%). Customers ask for FSC quotes, but mostly that’s where it ends. The fear of losing out in terms of competition stops clients from using FSC paper. Demand remains few and far apart.”

Tam remains optimistic, however. “It’s about consumer awareness, and how people like you and me can demand that corporations use FSC paper.”

Abroad, many government agencies, non-governmental organisations and major corporations have committed to purchasing FSC-certified wood and paper products. Locally, two out of Tam’s three FSC-buying clients are international.

As a percentage of total sales at Thumbprints, FSC products account for only 0.04%. FSC paper is currently sold in the market as a speciality paper at premium pricing. Although many multinationals have set policies to source for FSC-certified raw materials for their products, Tam says their local counterparts often do not conform, either due to lack of availability of these materials, poor awareness or bottom line profit margins.

He says in developed countries, government policy has brought about nearly full use of FSC-certified paper and 100% recycled papers.

“Banks in Britain were ordered by their central bank to use only FSC paper and in the US, non-FSC products are rare. We hope the Malaysian government and companies will implement policies to use and promote FSC products. Eventually, demand will bring about economy of scale and the price will come down.”

Tam thinks demand for FSC-certified products will be a trend for the future.

“FSC promotes well-managed forests, which means harvesting only trees that are big and old enough, whilst leaving others to grow. Replanting in place of the fallen tree is mandatory, and this will liberate the guilt of using paper-based products like books, cartons, magazines or newspaper, because we are using renewable and sustainable resources.”

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