Thinking outside of the box: Ecosystem Service Markets

Forests are able to provide many more services than timber production, and FSC is looking into ways of fostering these alternative services.
The participants in the panel shared their experiences with different tools for ecosystem services.

By Noel Castro Fernandez, FSC GA Youth Reporter. 

The term ‘ecosystem services’ refers to all those direct and indirect contributions that forest ecosystems offer besides the production of timber. They include, for instance, fresh water, food, fiber, climate regulation, water purification, recreational services, carbon storage, habitat development or aesthetic values among others.

FSC-certified forests already require the preservation of these, but, in recent times, ecosystem services have started to be contemplated as tools for increasing the perceived value of the product or the service offered by the company. Therefore, this approach goes beyond the traditional market perspective which used to be driven solely towards the production of timber.

This integrated approach to forest management seeks to attract businesses, investors, and governments and gain their support to foster environmentally sustainable initiatives in the realm of the forests. A change in the mindset of these actors is essential, according to Chris Henschel, FSC Responsible for Ecosystem Services, to create a real alternative to the short-term benefits of such hazardous activities as deforestation and forest degradation.

According to Henschel, the ecosystem services market is a diversified one, with many different possible clients and sources of revenue for the forest owners: governments, conservation funds, tourism enterprises or carbon funds, to name a few. In this context, FSC is trying to develop tools so that certified forest owners can measure and assess how the boosting of ecosystem services might increase the benefits to potential investors, as well as transmitting all the richness that the forest has to offer to the final consumer of the product. Apart from assessment and measurement tools, this goal is also being approached through new marketing strategies that may compel the development of technology or just the creation of a specific FSC label for products that benefit from ecosystem services.

Although the means and technologies to implement these services are still being test, various success stories were presented in a panel hosted at the FSC General Assembly last Monday to show how forest managers can benefit from ecosystem services tools in order to attract both investors and consumers.

Let’s take the experience of the jungle in East Kalimantan, Borneo, where –after a long period of monitoring– the company PT Ratah Timber was able to measure that its FSC-certified forest was, on the one hand, increasing the numbers of some of its endangered species such as snow leopard and, on the other hand, was considerably increasing the amount of carbon storage in the area. Two positive results of the sustainable management of the forest that directly impacted the success of the enterprise in reaching new potential clients on the both sides of the value chain.

In another case, it was the aim to achieve FSC certification that fuelled the efforts of a community in the island of Chiloe (Chile) to fight their problem of water scarcity and develop different measures to protect ecosystem services. Among others activities, this community planted new trees, excluded cattle from water sources, and limited agriculture practices in the area, thereby managing to improve the quality of their water, just by letting the ecosystem ‘heal’ itself.

But some of the stories also came with a negative counterpart. This was the case of a community in Nepal which, in order to boost its watershed services in a sustainable way, needed to expand to other territories and therefore lost its FSC certification although it managed to generate value from the use of ecosystem services.

However, these are only three examples of the many ways that ecosystem services may provide added value to what a certified forest can offer. The options are, and will be in the coming years, as varied as fragmented as the market. What is to be kept in mind, according to Jamie Lawrence, Senior Sutainability Advisor from Kingfisher Plc., is the need to generate value for the final client.

“We need to communicate the uniqueness of these products up until the final stage of the process, to the final point of sales,” he explained at the end of the panel, claiming that ecosystem services market tools are “the way” to make FSC an appealing brand for the consumer, which in his opinion is something that hasn’t happened yet.