Monday, 10 October 2011

Interview : Amy Mulkern from the FSC (2008)

This post is based on a BFTF interview on Radio Dawn 107.6FM in 2008, which was also subsequently used in an article in the Invitation Magazine.

The interview was with Amy Mulkern of the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC is a stakeholder owned organisation formed to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. It sets international standards for responsible forest management and it's product label allows consumers worldwide to recognize products that support the growth of responsible forest management worldwide.

As of 2008, over the past 13 years, over 90 million hectares in more than 70 countries have been certified according to FSC standards while several thousand products are produced using FSC-certified wood and carrying the FSC trademark. FSC operates through its network of National Initiatives in 45 countries.

Forests have a significant effect on the worlds climate and are host to many communities of plants and animals that live there.

It is worth mentioning that cheap paper products are cheap for a reason - in many cases that reason is that they have been produced from wood from cleared natural forests, often tropical rainforest.

To start with, Amy gave us some information of the history of the FSC;

“we've been around since 1993 and through the 80's and early 90's there was a real awakening and realisation that there was a problem with the world's forests, we all saw the images of the Amazon rainforest being burnt and seeing inappropriate plantations in the United Kingdom and started wondering and asking questions about where our wood was coming from and whether we were fuelling this problem, this illegal forest clearance happening all over the world - problems in Russia, in Canada, in south-east Asia, and in South America, in west and central Africa. And a lot of companies started asking questions about where their wood came from, and it was the first time they had asked this question. And a lot of them were quite upset with the answers that came from suppliers and they weren't really too sure what to do about it. So they needed a solution, a way to ensure that what they were doing was giving value to forests by their timber purchases, so giving them a reason for people to keep them, to make them economically viable but also to look after how they were being managed. So in 1993 a founding assembly of 120 organisations and individuals from around the world got together in Toronto, Canada. Our membership comes from big companies like B&Q and Ikea but also indigenous people's groups like first nations peoples and tribes peoples from Canada, also indigenous peoples groups and civil rights groups from South America, from west and central Africa, from south-east Asia. We're really a global organisation, we also had environmental organisations like WWF and Greenpeace and they all got together and they said we've got this terrible problem with what's going on with forestry around the world, we want to make sure we're giving value to forests, make sure forests are working, they're not being cleared, they're not being converted. So what are we going to do? We need a system like FSC, what we need is a truth label, so that when people see a label on wood products, whether it's paper, whether it's timber, whether it's charcoal or whether it's a book, we know that it actually does come from a well managed forest and not from illegal forest destruction. So that's what we were set up to do.”

Amy went on to give a feel for how an FSC forest is managed by pointing out that
“Each forest will have a forest management plan and that forest management plan will meet the international principles and criteria of FSC. Responsible forestry has been interpreted at the national level by local people about what's really the quality forestry that they can have in their country. So, you might have areas where they do clear blocks at a time, then they'll do rotational block clearing. They'll also have areas where they are more towards continuous cover. It will depend on the forestry and what's good. Certain types of bird species, for example, in the UK need cleared forest areas for their nesting sites, so it's not as simple as clearing blocks of forest is necessarily bad and keeping continuous cover is good. It would depend really on what the situation is at the very local level. And that's where the expertise of forest management and standard setting comes in.”
Later, Amy described in more detail how companies had woken up to the fact that they didn't know where their wood was coming from,
“I've heard speakers from B&Q and BBC saying that the questions were being asked through consumer pressure, through the NGOs, it was simply questions they'd never asked before. It was just paper, it was just wood. You know, they just bought it. But, they're also consumers, they're also individuals, they're also people. Once the question was asked, they thought to themselves, ‘God, I wonder where our wood does come from’? And then they started asking questions through their supply chain. B&Q themselves say we were not happy to find out that we didn't know where our wood came from and we realised that we had to sort this out.”

Amy also gave an example of what one publishers had to consider when auditing their supply chains,
“Alison, their production director, said very honestly, ‘we looked around and we looked at where our paper was coming from and we found that some of it couldn’t be proved that it had been legally harvested, let alone responsibly managed’. They were really worried about some of their sources of paper. And so, working with Greenpeace and WWF, and then later on working with ourselves when it got to a more technical level we looked at their supply chains, their pulp sources, so they wanted to exclude all the illegal fibre and then work to move as many book titles as they could to FSC certified. So you’ll find with companies what they’re doing is ensuring legality, not illegally harvested, not using indentured labour, is an absolute benchmark and then shifting over to responsibly managed FSC certified forests as fast as they can, working with our supply chains, moving things over because while avoiding illegal is vitally important, what we’ve also got to do is support and give value to responsibly managed forests."

And FSC is not just for printer paper, as Amy explained
“Paper used for printing and publishing, wood so that's sort of timber and furniture, garden furniture, kitchen utensils, all the building materials - plywood, chipboard, MDF. Companies like B&Q, Coop, even go down to your local garage and have a look at the charcoal bags there and see whether you can see our logo on it. Publishers of course like Bloomsbury and the Harry Potter books were printed up FSC certified. You can get certified greetings cards. If it comes out of a forest, it can carry the FSC logo.”

Amy went on to explain that the consumer also has a big role to play in this endeavour
“people are being concerned about where their products come from. We’re all starting to ask questions, as consumers, as members of the public. We want to make sure our money is going towards the right thing. And organisations like FSC give people an opportunity to be able to do that.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the issue of not just related to tropical forests, as shown by Amy's comments that:
“I was reading an interesting report a few months back from Greenpeace where they’ve caught a number of European pulp and paper mills and timber mills using paper that has come from Russia where there are a lot of problems with illegal harvesting and gang controlled harvesting and a lot of it gets smuggled over into Europe and then ends up in our mills that way. So it can be more of a complicated issue. Like I say, Greenpeace and WWF are really the experts on this but I’m afraid to say illegal harvesting and forest clearance is not just a tropical issue.”

We went on to take the specific example of IKEA, where we had asked staff in the stores “‘where is this wood coming from?’ and have been shown a little logo or label saying that they “do not take from intact natural forests’. This seems a little confusing, I mean, if it’s partially gone, does that mean you can rip the rest of the forest to shreds? On other occasions we have been told “we have a special forest in Russia and it’s all sustainably managed’.

Amy said that is was difficult to talk about specific cases, largely because
“What you’ve got there is a company’s self-declared claim and it may be absolutely right, they may well be taking it from perfectly responsibly managed forests but I can’t comment on whether that’s accurate or not. The point about FSC certification is its independent third party guarantee, someone’s gone in and actually ordered that and checked that, who is not part of the company, who has not got a vested interest in it to say that it genuinely does. With company’s self-declared claims, it muddies the water because some of them are absolutely true and doing a lot, for example Ikea, they have got all their garden furniture FSC certified, or the vast majority of it. I do happen to know that they do use a lot of fibre in their unlabelled products but as to the rest of it and the full supply chain, I just can’t comment on it, simply because I don’t know. And that’s what you need to be doing as a consumer, you need to be saying well, how do we trust you, how do we take your word for it? Where is the proof? Where is the evidence? Where is the independent guarantee?”

Having had enough of doom and gloom, we then asked Amy which companies DID sell FSC certifeid products and were told that there were now quite a lot out there, including B&Q, Focus, Travis Perkins, Magnet...

Moving on, we asked Amy what we could do in the political arena to promote sustainable sourcing of wood products. Amy replied that:
“Don’t be afraid to ask. You’re voting these people in, they’re your councillors, they’re your MPs, they’re your MEPs and you have every right to ask them where the wood is coming from in any local building projects you see. The government has got a commitment. The only source of timbre for central government projects should be from legal and sustainable sources. Get your MPs to ask some questions in the House of Commons, challenge them about how they’re delivering on it because Greenpeace has caught them again and again using timber from unacceptable forest management - the Cabinet office have had two fairly recent cases where they have been found to be using plywood that had been traced using German laboratories to analyse the plywood and was traced back to rainforest clearance in Papa New Guinea.”
Finally, we asked Amy about the future and what she thought it held for the worlds forests, to which she replied “We’re at very much a junction and it could go either way. I mean, the rates of forest clearance and forest destruction are pretty horrendous. We’re looking at about 33 hectares per minute being destroyed and when you have the Brazilian government themselves saying that 60% of the timber coming out of their country has been illegally clear-felled So we have got some huge challenges. But the other side of that is that FSC certified forests, responsibly managed forests, are growing exponentially. People are seeing valued forests. So we’re very much at the forefront of giving a future to the world’s forests, which is why it is so important that people buy FSC labelled products so that they can give the retailers, those people who are selling these products, the confidence that they are doing the right thing by taking this gamble, getting involved in FSC. If your listeners are then going out and saying to people, ‘oh, have you got an FSC certified whatever’? Then this is helping them to justify that they are doing the right thing because if we give value to forests we’re giving alternative to the land clearance, for agriculture, for mining, for urban development. So there is a future, there is a real future for the world’s forests and beautiful things are happening with forestry around the world. Whether it’s medicinal plants being grown under the canopies of FSC certified Eucalyptus plantations in South America, or whether it’s the work that’s been done up at my local forestry commission plantation on forest regeneration, there are some fantastic things going on and we all have got such a role to play in encouraging and supporting that, to prove to people that they are doing the right thing and moving forwards.”

You can find examples of how BFTF has been challenging retailers about the source of paper in their products here, here and here.

You may also wish to ask your own masjid what kind of paper they use in their printed flyers, leaflets etc.

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