FSC, VIA, TAG – What Do These Abbreviations Tell You?

Did you know? One out of five companies lacks sufficient evidence to convince their own decision-makers of the business case for using standards. And three in ten say they lack the evidence to convince these decision-makers that standards are impactful.

By Malika Kanatbek kyzy, Youth Correspondent for FSC General Assembly 2017

Established in 1993, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an independent, nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests. Over the past two decades, the FSC system has been widely recognized for its strong multi-stakeholder processes and carefully defined social and environmental criteria for forest management. FSC certificate holders want their customers to be informed about the positive impacts FSC certification has for forest and people. And stakeholders and companies want to hear about real, tangible results. However, it has often been a challenge for businesses producing FSC-certified products to quantify and demonstrate the value the system brings to the better management of the world’s forests.

Therefore, during the FSC General Assembly 2014 in Sevilla, three major industry players in the forest products value chain – IKEA, Kingfisher, and Tetra Pak – launched the Value and Impact Analysis (VIA) initiative. VIA was a pilot project working with industry leaders, NGO professionals, and research experts to agree, together, how best to measure the impacts, better communicate the value of FSC certification, and demonstrate how certification contributes to better management of the world’s forests. At the side event on ‘How to measure and communicate the results of FSC’, organized by the VIA initiative, members of the project presented the results from those three years.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could tell a commercial director that, in Indonesia, FSC reduced the incidence of air pollution by 31 per cent, firewood dependence by 33 per cent, respiratory infections by 32 per cent? Or if we could inform a policy team that, as of 2014, managers working in FSC-certified forests in Russia had set aside over 7 million hectares for protection? Or report back to investors that, in several countries in the Congo Basin, living and working conditions, such as health insurance and safety procedures, were all better for workers in FSC-certified forests than in forests without certification?” asked Jaime Lawrence, Sustainability Advisor in Kingfisher. He also added, “What if we could back all those claims up with independent research and FMU [forest management unit] audit data?”

The VIA initiative did organize independent research and FMU audit data; moreover, it engaged professionals from respected organizations to peer-review and endorse all this.

The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of the VIA initiative was formed by engaging leading professionals from Princeton, Duke, and Ohio State universities, Greenpeace International, WWF International, NEPCon, Rainforest Alliance, Resources for the Future, The Natural Capital Project, Independents, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), World Resources Institute (WRI), the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) from January 2016 to August 2017.

TAG endorsement means that the professionals have agreed that the message is well supported by evidence and is worded in accordance with agreed-upon language guidelines.

Stakeholders can use endorsed messages to communicate with confidence about the social and environmental benefits of certification.

More detailed information about this process and the VIA project in general can be found on the ISEAL Alliance website – https://www.isealalliance.org/VIA