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Q&A:
FSC on the Role of Brands in the Fight Against Climate Change

As Forest Stewardship Council Director General Kim Carstensen explains, the certification helps brands take climate action by offering a simple way for consumers to make a difference, connected to tangible impacts in forests.

Kim Carstensen has served as Director General of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) since October 2012, after a stint leading WWF International’s Global Climate Initiative. We sat down with him recently to talk through the role of business in leading the fight against climate change.

What is the role of business in the fight against climate change?

Kim Carstensen: I want to acknowledge up front that the business community is currently playing a lead role in the fight against climate change. While governments are making some progress, in almost every instance the private sector is doing the most — whether making commitments to carbon neutrality, meeting science-based emissions targets; or developing new, game-changing technology or financing tools such as green bonds.

The logical role for business is to continue to make climate change action good business, thereby enabling increasingly aggressive commitments and actions — and to help push governments to follow their lead and take action. We know the fundamentals of climate change. We are on a path to a 3 degrees Celsius increase, which is incompatible with a safe and stable human civilization. We need to bend the curve, which will take commitments well beyond the current levels. I’d like to believe governments can hit this level of commitments and subsequent achievement, but we’ve not seen too many historical precedents for their doing so.

Increasingly, I find hope in the commitments we’re seeing from businesses. Whether these are being made to appeal to consumers who increasingly expect companies to earn their social license to operate, to reflect the concerns of leadership, shareholders and media, or other reasons.

The pace and scale of the commitments being made — from companies like Amazon, BlackRock, Google, Kimberly-Clark, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Target, Walmart and many others — is inspiring. I’m expecting to see more innovation in the years ahead.

How does the Forest Stewardship Council address climate change?

KC: While there are a few promising technologies on the horizon, there is currently just one way to remove carbon from the atmosphere at scale: Forests.

According to an analysis by The Nature Conservancy, reforestation, avoided deforestation, and improved forest management in combination can sequester an additional 14 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, which is more than twice what the US emits annually. That’s huge potential, all directly tied to FSC’s mission; it’s what we’ve been focused on for more than 25 years.

FSC is the world’s most trusted forest certification because we have a diverse membership of stakeholders working together to solve big problems. We are now working hard to quantify just how much added carbon is stored in forests managed to FSC standards. This is not a simple question to answer, since every forest is unique. But collectively, and in response to market demand, we are working to better understand the climate impact of FSC. As a suggestion of what is to come, a US study by Ecotrust — an FSC member — found that FSC-certified forests store an average of 30 percent more carbon than those managed to “business-as-usual” practices.

How can FSC help brands take climate action?

KC: FSC was created to help companies and consumers reward and incentivize responsible forest management. Everyone inevitably uses forest products every day. We are surrounded by them — from furniture to office paper and facial tissues. For the working forests of the world, demand is a good thing since it can incentivize landowners to keep their land as forest. But to preserve all the benefits forests provide, they must also be managed to protect biodiversity and water quality; respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, forest workers and local communities; and restrict the use of hazardous pesticides. The FSC system does all of this and more, and we believe managing to these outcomes also delivers carbon benefits that mitigate the impact of climate change.

So, we help brands take climate action by offering a simple way for consumers to make a difference, connected to tangible impacts in forests.

Let me give you an example. Recently, Amazon announced its Climate Pledge Friendly initiative, which uniquely recognizes FSC as a forest-based product certification. We are incredibly excited to be part of this effort, because by making it clear to consumers that their choices can make a real difference, it turns the Amazon marketplace into a platform to reward responsible forest management. Consumers across the US — and likely soon, elsewhere around the world — can take a simple action they can feel good about: buying FSC-certified products. And every time they do, they send a signal back to the retailer, manufacturer and landowner, saying “thank you for taking care of the forest.”

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to climate change. We need to do many things, all at once. We need to decarbonize our entire world economy, and we need to sequester a lot of carbon dioxide that’s already in the atmosphere. That’s where FSC can help.

Every person and company uses forest products; so as companies address climate change, FSC offers a simple action with a profoundly positive impact.

For more about the Forest Stewardship Council, visit https://sustainablebrands.com/brands/fsc.

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