Local Relevance Key to FSC ‘Turning the Tide’

To ensure the successful implementation of the FSC Global Strategic Plan 2015-2020, FSC must find a balance between global harmonization and local relevance. Now is the time to find out how FSC’s core regulatory framework fits to varying conditions and help FSC to ‘turn the tide’ in all forest types and regions around the world.

Janne Näräkkä
Economic North,
FSC Certification Manager, Finnish Forest Industries Federation.

FSC is a glocal organization – an organization with a global reach that still needs to take into account local conditions when tailoring its policies and procedures. With the introduction of the new FSC Principles and Criteria and International Generic Indicators, FSC has taken steps towards harmonization and centralization of FSC guidelines – shifting from local to global. While this should help grow our reach and enhance consistency between countries, it increases the risk that FSC becomes too rigid and less relevant at local scale to various stakeholders. In other words, a global average may come at the expense of local relevance.

Minimal Growth and Stagnation

FSC was founded with the intention of protecting tropical forests, and yet we barely certify 10 per cent of forests in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. FSC also faces severe challenges in boreal regions, with stagnation of growth in some of our most important expansion countries, including Canada and Russia.

The FSC Global Strategic Plan 2015-2020 states a clear aspiration for the organization, to ‘turn the tide’ by 2020 so that “FSC is the leading catalyst and defining force for improved forest management and market transformation, shifting the global forest trend toward sustainable use, conservation, restoration, and respect for all”. This is only possible if FSC succeeds in gaining new ground, and keeps existing hectares of forests within the system. I have attended dozens of FSC meetings in the past two years. Regardless of the region, there seems to be dissatisfaction amongst stakeholders about the relevancy of the normative framework to their environment.

With only three years left to ‘turn the tide’ we are clearly not on track to do so, and FSC needs to understand the reasons why it has not achieved success.

Applicability and Local Relevance

In proposing motion 23 for the FSC General Assembly 2017, my fellow members in the social and environmental chambers who seconded the motion, and myself, looked directly to the strategic plan, and what FSC members had determined would be indicators of success. While the motion has links with many success criteria, 1.1.6 and 1.2.1 stood out especially.

1.1.6 – To meet growing global demand for forest products and ecosystem services, FSC continues to be relevant to and effective in standards setting and application for the full range of forest types, including plantations, as elements of sustainable landscapes.

1.2.1 – Policies and standards enable local relevance within a broader context of consistency and credibility.

The key question for FSC and its membership is this; is the current normative framework a help or a hindrance in achieving these success criteria and the overall objectives of the global strategic plan?

Motion 2017/23 proposes a global study to provide FSC with the information to answer this question. We need clear data to understand the applicability of the FSC normative framework to varying circumstances.

The information in the study would help FSC streamline the normative framework and consider how to build in flexibility to ensure the local relevance of FSC. More concretely, the results of the study would directly influence the development of the organization’s risk-based approach, and the FSC international standards revision process in 2018. As it is closely linked to multiple objectives in the FSC Global Strategic Plan 2015-2020, the study is necessary for its implementation.

Learning from our mistakes

Finally, I would like to give you an example from my own country. Finland is Europe’s most heavily-forested country. Forests cover 23 million hectares; that is 74.2 per cent of the land area. And, yet, only 1.5 million hectares are FSC certified. This lack of success is not only due to competing schemes – something about our system is not working, and we can’t fix it until we know what the problem is. I am convinced that the problem is not only Finnish or boreal; it is global. It does not only concern the economic chamber; it is common to the whole membership.

FSC must expand its global reach, but the more generic we become, the less relevant we are to local stakeholders. We must find a balance. We must continue to see the local as we strive for the global to ensure that we continue to have Forests For All Forever. Let’s help FSC to do this and vote for motion 2017/23 at this year’s general assembly.

The views expressed in the opinion pieces released both prior to and at the FSC General Assembly are the personal opinion of the author, and do not represent the views of FSC. Different members were approached to provide two sides of each argument, but some members exercised their right to decline.