Increasing the value of forest certification starts with asking the right questions

Tom Pollock

February 25, 2015

3 Min Read
Increasing the value of forest certification starts with asking the right questions
How can stakeholders work together to deliver value based on the elements of forest certification they all agree on?

Bringing together stakeholders across a varied and complex supply chain can be an extremely rewarding, albeit challenging, prospect. GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition is leading a project that brings together the forest products supply chain to find strategies to better understand the value of forest certification and the best strategies for delivering this value. This group includes family forest owners, paper manufacturers, environmental non-governmental organizations (eNGOs), multinational corporations, loggers, paper merchants and many others. With such a varied group, and each bringing excellent ideas to the table, we have been most successful by starting with the right questions.

You can find a lot out of ideas on how to fix forest certification. Some of the suggestions have worked. Some have not. What we do know is that the majority of forestland in the United States is held by private land owners who own relatively few acres of forests. This group makes up the majority of wood fiber supply to the forest products industry. For a number of reasons, this group has only certified a small percentage of their forestland, despite high demand for certified forest products such as paper and solid wood. “How do we fix certification?” was our initial approach, but it was not until we changed the question that we reached some breakthroughs. For our group, the first question is “what is the job that certification is supposed to do?”

This approach, called the Value Innovation Process, worked because instead of getting into the weeds about “which certification system is better,” and “why certain certification systems should change criteria and principles,” we asked “who is the most important customer” and “what are most important aspects of forest certification?” This led to forest owners, eNGOs, manufacturers and corporate brands working together trying to figure out where they could work together on shared values rather than create a list of differences of opinion. “How do we fix certification” is a daunting, if not frustrating, question for an industry working group to tackle. But by asking about—and more importantly—creating a dialogue for stakeholders across the supply chain to identify the most valuable aspects of forest certification, we begin to uncover common ground and areas to work together.

Right now the group is using the results of the first phase of the project where we identified what elements of performance stakeholders in the forest products supply chain value most in forest certification. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in some findings where seemingly unrelated supply chain members agreed on certain criteria and principles of responsible forest management. Now we plan to bring this group together again to start looking at specific strategies we can engage in to drive shared value.

It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like forests. And in our working group, as well, there is much that everyone agrees on that we should all work towards in terms of responsible forest management. We all want to keep forests as forests, provide smallholders with tools to help them achieve sustainability goals and ensure wood fiber comes from responsible forests, just to name a few shared values. This group of stakeholders, from small forest owners to brand owners, is getting together again this March to continue its work and brainstorm strategies on “how might we work together to deliver value based on the elements of forest certification we all agree on?” Which, we think, is a good question.

Tom Pollock is senior manager, Forest Products with GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition. For more information about the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and the Forest Certification Industry Leadership Committee,

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