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Supply Chain
Collaboration, Communication Key to Scaling Sustainable Forestry in Supply Chains

In a recent webinar, FSC, Procter & Gamble and Stok discussed how companies can fulfill their role in the responsible sourcing and manufacturing of products derived from forests.

Companies across industries are working toward more sustainable practices that protect people and biodiversity, in order to stabilize the climate — with ambitious goals to source from more sustainable forests a critical component. The challenge? Only 11 percent of the world’s working forests are certified as sustainably managed.

In a Sustainable Brands™ webinar last week, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Stok discussed how — by partnering with organizations, certifications, suppliers and consumers — companies can fulfill their role in the responsible sourcing and manufacturing of products derived from forests.

Why forests?

Sustainable forestry and agriculture practices could get the world at least a quarter of the way to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5° Celsius. The vast social and environmental benefits of forests have led countries across the globe to make strident efforts to restore, protect and maintain their climate-positive benefits.

But markets are plagued with inertia. Across the world, tens of thousands of acres of land are lost every day; short-term thinking says land is worth a lot more if it’s bulldozed for real estate or monoculture farm land. With sustainable forestry standards such as FSC, landowners and managers are encouraged, incentivized and championed to keep forests standing, while providing ethically sourced, sustainable wood products.

50,000 companies around the globe currently use FSC-certified products sourced from 500 million acres of FSC-certified forests — but the work has just begun.

“The strength of FSC is our holistic, rigorous approach to forest management,” said Brad Kahn, Director of Communications at FSC. “That is also our biggest challenge.”

Aligning with FSC is challenging, Khan admitted; and not all businesses see the value in spending the resources to get certified.

“The construction market is going crazy, lumber markets are really high, and there’s a lot of demand for home building,” he said. “If people are busy, they wonder, ‘Why do I have to do this thing that is going to take me time and cost me money, if I’m already selling as much product as I can?’”

One answer? People are looking to brands to stand in the gap.

FSC certification holds inherent social and environmental benefits; but more than that, it can help brands provide solutions to their consumers’ deepest social and environmental concerns, turning values into action.

The companies that do the best with FSC lean into storytelling about why forests matter, how they tie to their corporate strategy and values, why consumers should care — and in some cases, why someone should pay a little bit more for a product featuring the FSC logo.

Brands as gatekeepers of responsible consumerism

More and more consumers want products that are people- and planet-positive. For better or worse, consumers are looking to companies to do the hard work in making sure their products are responsibly sourced.

“All of these topics are very, very important and should be done to ensure ethical and responsible forestry,” said Christopher Reeves, a certified forester and scientific communicator at P&G. “But consumers don’t have time [to investigate] that information.”

Certifications are one way to clearly and quickly illustrate that a product is meeting the highest standards of ethics and sustainability. Brands need to be careful to present certifications without virtue signaling or greenwashing; and all communication must align with what consumers expect of the brand.

Recent Charmin ads, for example, focus on a great experience on the loo — while also pointing out the brand’s FSC certification and work to restore devastated forests with the Arbor Day Foundation. Quick marketing tidbits such as this — when backed up by accurate, verifiable data — assuage the busy consumer.

“Go for the consumer insight that you know is going to work for the majority of people; and then for those who want to know more, make sure you have a place where people can dive deep,” Reeves said.

Cross-sector pollination

Sectors across the board are waking up. More and more of Stok’s clients want to increase embodied carbon in their buildings and ensure source materials do as little harm as possible.

But companies looking to become more responsible are also looking to scale and grow their businesses — which begs the question: How can they scale responsibly while keeping robust CSR/ESG commitments?

P&G’s sustainable forestry strategy centers around 100 percent FSC sourcing by 2030. When P&G went public about its FSC certification goals, it progressed rapidly — meeting 75 percent certification three years ahead of schedule. There’s a lesson to be learned there about fearlessly stating goals and fusing them to brand identity, unveiling the power of brands to make a positive impact.

Reeves noted that without direct engagement with stakeholders, supply for FSC products wouldn’t meet demand. This is an important way that industry commitments take advantage of market mechanisms to scale positive change.

FSC certification is a cross-sectional win spanning industries. For example, P&G sources much of its pulp from secondary lumber waste. When a source mill archives FSC certification for its pulp, its lumber becomes FSC-certified, too. Stok’s FSC-certified suppliers can start sourcing FSC materials to other buyers; Stok’s contractors gain in-depth knowledge of FSC products and processes, and are able to incorporate that knowledge in their other projects.

In a world where working forests aren’t going anywhere, increasing FSC acreage is a very good thing.

Best practices for engaging stakeholders

Spoiler alert: Improving entire supply chains is tough; there’s a reason just a few percentage points of the world’s working forests are FSC certified. Reeves shared some lessons on stakeholder engagement to help companies put actions to words on sustainable forest procurement commitments:

  1. Engage suppliers and stakeholders with shared values, especially if there’s established relationship and trust.

  2. Foster a culture of accountability and communication between stakeholders. Talk about continued opportunities for mutual improvement, and challenges that may stand in the way of mutual goals.

  3. Celebrate and elevate others who are doing the right thing. Partner with exemplary stakeholders in putting out content, webinars, events, and more. Share the stories that are promoting the mission.

Reeves encouraged folks to start small and commit to progress; and work tirelessly with employees, suppliers, peer-to-peer initiatives and NGOs to identify challenges and opportunities. Furthermore, he recommended a deep dive into supply chains to understand where various forest products come from.

Responsible forestry: a ‘yes, and …’ climate solution

It shouldn’t take a climate crisis to spur responsible forestry, but it undoubtedly plays a role in the growing interest in FSC certification. Though Khan admitted more needs to be done to protect the world’s forests, he noted that FSC-certified forests store 30 percent more carbon than conventionally managed forests. That’s driven a lot of interest in FSC, particularly from construction firms looking to utilize mass timber building as a climate solution.

FSC is expanding its mission by communicating the inherent value of forests to market interests and turning it into value for forest managers and the brands they serve.

Sustainable forest management has myriad benefits, from sequestering carbon to bolstering biodiversity to protecting indigenous rights. And though the world is finally waking up to the value of forests, there’s much more work to be done; and Kahn fully admits FSC is just beginning to make sense of how to communicate forest value under the specter of climate change.

“Forests are both a cause and a solution to climate change,” Kahn said. “Are you a part of the solution, or are you part of the problem? We need to look at the use of forest products to that end.”