Forest Stewardship Council
Published 8 months ago.
About a 6 minute read.
/ This article is sponsored by
Forest Stewardship Council.
Many natural rubber users cannot claim that their rubber is sourced responsibly due to the highly fragmented market at the top of the supply chain. But a growing number of brands are using their influence to change that.
When most people think of forest products, they think of wood — lumber and
building products — or pulp-based materials such as paper and cardboard. While
it is true that these make up the bulk of forest products used on a regular
basis in a myriad of final applications, the natural rubber value chain is also
driving responsible forest management in increasingly impactful ways.
87 percent of natural rubber is produced in the Asia-Pacific region — with
the majority in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam as it requires a
hot, humid climate to grow. The tropical forests in these areas are of high
conservation value and demand increased attention to mitigate further
deforestation and critical biodiversity loss.
The properties of natural rubber cannot be replicated by synthetic rubber; and
production volume directly correlates to global economic growth, doubling
approximately every 25 years. Currently there are about 15 million hectares (37m
acres) producing natural rubber globally.
To complicate the situation further, natural rubber is on the short list of
agricultural commodities linked to the most deforestation. Between 2000-2015,
over 19,000 square miles of tropical forest were cleared for rubber plantations
— equivalent to the land area of Costa Rica. This deforestation is occurring
in the world’s densest biodiversity hotspots for critically endangered species
including elephants, orangutans, tigers, gorillas, and rhinos. Along with this,
human rights abuses of local and indigenous communities including illegal land
grabbing, child labor and modern
slavery can occur.
Unlock customer insights on sustainability & your brand’s unique performance! Submit your brand (or any brand) into the 2024 annual study and receive unparalleled insights on customer perception of that brand’s performance. Benchmark how your customers rate your brand on social and environmental sustainability and overall brand trust, while seeing how your brand compares to others in the study. Space is limited! The deadline to become part of the study is January 15, 2024.
68 percent of natural rubber goes to tires; 12 percent to latex products such as
gloves, hoses, and condoms; 12 percent to industrial products; 5 percent to
footwear and 3 percent to adhesives. The core reason many natural rubber users
cannot claim that their rubber is sourced responsibly is due to the highly
fragmented market at the top of the supply chain. Raw rubber is produced from
latex, the sap of the rubber tree, and is harvested predominantly by
smallholders with 5 hectares (approximately 12 acres) or less land under their
supervision. It’s then sold to middlemen — sometimes passing through 5 or more
hands before being sent to manufacturing and processing, which are more highly
concentrated markets. Thus, it is impossible to know where the rubber is coming
from and under what type of forest-management practices.
Under the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC)
certification system, which creates habitat protection through buffer zones and
cleaner water due to minimal use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, we’re
seeing a dramatic increase in the amount of land and number of smallholders
adopting responsible forestry
An example is Agriac — formed in 2019 to improve the
lives of small rubber plantation farmers in the south of Thailand while
improving the rich biodiversity of the region. They help smallholders work
towards and maintain an agroforestry model (as opposed to monoculture).
Compatible plants and crops grown among the rubber trees in an agroforestry
model provide ground cover — as well as other non-timber forest products such as
pineapples and honey which supplement and provide stability to the smallholders’
income from rubber production. The Agriac Group, which saw 3,200 acres under
supervision and 495 members in 2021, has expanded to close to 8,000 acres and
3000 smallholder members by the winter of 2023.
the 160-year-old maker of the iconic Wellington rain boot, used 74 metric tons
of FSC-certified rubber in 2022, jumping to 307 metric tons in 2023. The
company has pledged that 100 percent of its rubber footwear will be certified by
2025. By 2024, it will also ensure that 100 percent of its paper packaging is
traceable and comes from sustainable sources — in line with its Forest
lululemon’s broad sustainability
program commits that
100 percent of its forest-based materials will be third-party audited or
certified by 2023. As of 2018, 100 percent of its forest-based cellulosic
were sourced responsibly and assessed through CanopyStyle
Audits. At present, lululemon
is transitioning all of its yoga mats to natural
that is sustainably sourced and certified.
crepe rubber is another good example of apparel and footwear brands
incorporating sustainably produced rubber into their products — 70 percent of
its crepe soles were FSC
as of the end of 2021. Clarks, along with other well-known brands, is also a
signatory of the forthcoming FSC Natural Rubber Paper, committing to responsible sourcing.
May 2021 saw tire manufacturer
Pirelli become the first
company in the world to produce a range of FSC-certified
designed for the BMW X5 xDrive45e Plug-in Hybrid. Giovanni Tronchetti
Provera, Pirelli’s SVP of Sustainability and Future Mobility, said: “Before
even reaching the road, sustainable mobility begins with raw materials. With the
world’s first FSC-certified tire, Pirelli demonstrates its commitment to
pursuing increasingly challenging goals in terms of sustainability.”
“As a premium manufacturer, we aspire to lead the way in sustainability and take
responsibility,” said Andreas Wendt, former member of the Board of Management of
BMW AG, responsible for the
Purchasing and Supplier Network. “We have been committed to improving
cultivation of natural rubber and increasing transparency in the supplier
network since 2015. The use of tires made of certified natural rubber is helping
preserve biodiversity and forests to counteract climate change.”
Moving forward, there is growing international pressure to require all Thai
plantations to follow sustainable principles and be transparent in their
management. In December, Nakorn Takwiraphat, governor of the Rubber
Authority of Thailand (RAOT),
said: “There is risk
that international companies like
will not buy our rubber if plantations don’t meet international standards within
two years. … RAOT aims to ensure at least 50 percent of Thai rubber plantations
meet FSC standards to ensure the country can meet international demands,” and
warned that “if not, exporters will face the risk of products being rejected,
and adding the benefit that "rubber farmers who meet these standards will be
able to sell their products at prices up to 40 percent more than normal.”
"Right now is an exciting time for certification in the rubber value chain due
to the convergence of several drivers,” says Sean
Nyquist, Value Chain Development
Manager of Natural Rubber at FSC. “These include urgency brought forth by the
accessibility of certification to smallholder tappers through the regional
pathways to correct past social and environmental harms through the Remedy
and other tools to capture the true value of forests, such as ecosystem
services verification, to
incentivize responsible forest stewardship and improve smallholder livelihoods."
Published Mar 10, 2023 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.