Consumer Solutions to Deforestation

updated January 2017

Product certification which offers the reassurance of an environmentally friendly label is a popular consumer solution to deforestation. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), founded in 1993, is one widely recognised label testifying to the social, economic and environmental quality of timber products. However, timber certification has struggled to achieve decisive results for a variety of reasons; for example, only 15% of FSC certified timber is sourced from tropical forests.

Certification facilitated by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) since 2008 has similar difficulties – it embraces only 17% of the total market for palm oil. Crucial governments such as Indonesia and Malaysia prefer to promote their own standards of voluntary safeguards. And advocates of RSPO certification face new challenges as countries in West Africa succumb to the temptations of oil palm plantations.

Popular global environmental campaigns have therefore played the more effective role in slowing the pace of deforestation, especially those which target the reputational risk of big corporate brand names. In a controversial 2010 campaign linking popular confectionary to the death of orang-utans, Greenpeace forced Nestlé into an embarrassing termination of its palm oil contract with the Indonesian producer, Sinar Mas. Similar sensitivities have persuaded major traders in Brazil to agree on a moratorium in purchasing beef or soy products that originate in forest regions.

These campaign victories have merged into a snowball effect in more recent years as a many of the palm oil sector’s most significant global companies, including Asia Pulp and Paper, McDonalds and Cargill have declared “zero deforestation” policies. Whilst the definition, scope and timeline for these commitments are often vague, an important roadmap that could lead to forest protection has been established.

In the context of deforestation related to logging, campaigners lobbying the 2008 US Farm Bill led to the world’s first legislative ban on the import or purchase of illegal timber. And in 2010 the European Parliament approved similar legislation. The first successful prosecution under the new US law was completed in 2012 when Gibson Guitars agreed to pay a fine for importing illegal rosewood from Madagascar.

The European law has proved less effective, struggling for active participation of all member countries. Global Witness has estimated that illegal timber produce valued at over $2 billion entered Europe in 2014.

Despite the complexity of tracing the origins of modern products, consumer-based solutions to deforestation are considered by many observers to be more potent than protracted negotiations to enact international laws. Formidable challenges remain, in particular to bring public pressure to bear on the world’s other major timber importers – China, Vietnam and Japan – and to provide reassurance that timber production is sustainable as well as legal.

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Understanding ‘Deforestation Free’ in Indonesia – taking into account the views of a wide range of interested parties illustrates the complexity of tackling deforestation
from The Forest Dialogue

more Forests briefings
Importance of Tropical Forests
Deforestation and Forest Degradation
Tropical Forests and Climate Change
Causes of Deforestation
Sustainable Development Goal for Deforestation
Rights-based Solutions to Deforestation
Market-based Solutions to Deforestation
Source material and useful links

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