More labels on products an important but under utilized consumer solution

Discover the key takeaways of the 5th PEFC Stakeholder Dialogue: Engaging Consumers on Sustainability.

More labels on products an important but under utilized consumer solution

8 December 2014 News

Demand for commodities for consumer products, such as soy, beef and palm oil, cause more than 70% of global tropical deforestation, and consumers trust certification labels – more than brands – as assurance for sustainability commodity production.

These are two of the many takeaways of the 5th PEFC Stakeholder Dialogue, which last month gathered over 150 stakeholders in Paris, France. Supported by Metsä Group, PEFC Portugal/CFFP and Suzano Pulp & Paper, and co-hosted by PEFC International and PEFC France, the Stakeholder Dialogue marked the final day of PEFC’s 2014 Forest Certification Week.

PEFC gives value around the world and is proud to be partners with you, the stakeholders

Under the theme of ‘Addressing Deforestation: joining forces to stimulate demand for sustainable forest products’ the PEFC Stakeholder Dialogue provided an opportunity to hear a wide range of expert views on this challenging subject and gather stakeholder views on key opportunities and solutions that forest certification and PEFC might positively impact. The program was opened by Mr. William Street Jr., Chairman of PEFC International, and key note speaker Ms. Kirsten Canby, Director, Forest Trade and Finance, Forest Trends. Both tackled the role of independent certification in addressing deforestation and promoting sustainable supply chains and brands.

Mr. Street reminded the audience in his opening address that sustainable forest management is about maintaining the multiple benefits that forests provide, from ecosystem services to meeting the needs of forest-dependent people and communities to enabling forest owners to realize an economic return, thereby safeguarding forest area from being converted to other, more profitable land uses. He welcomed participants emphasizing that “PEFC gives value around the world and is proud to be partners with you, the stakeholders.”

Kirsten Canby drew strongly on a comprehensive new analysis - Consumer Goods and Deforestation - funded by the UK Government that found nearly half (49%) of all tropical deforestation to be the result of illegal clearing for commercial agriculture. “Exports from illegal conversion are worth US$61 billion and are responsible for 25% of tropical deforestation. Brazil and Indonesia’s illegal land clearance is the highest in the world,” she said. The study also finds that around half of this illegal destruction was driven by overseas demand for agricultural commodities including palm oil, beef, soy, and wood products. In addition to devastating impacts on forest-dependent people and biodiversity, the illegal conversion of tropical forests for commercial agriculture is estimated to produce 1.47 gigatonnes of carbon each year - equivalent to 25% of the EU’s annual fossil fuel-based emissions.  

Consumers in the spotlight

During the morning session, participants heard the latest evidence on, and most recent responses to, growing consumer awareness and concern about global deforestation and an interest in addressing deforestation by buying wood and paper based products independently verified to be from sustainable forest management. The session, chaired by PEFC International Board member Julian Walker-Palin, saw presentations aimed at understanding consumers’ behavior, perception and expectations for sustainable products by looking at the evidence base from UK (Laura Babbs, Sustainability Manager, Asda UK), France (Elizabeth Pastore-Reiss, President, EthiCity & Greenflex) and the USA (Donna Harman, President, American Forest & Paper Association).

Innovative solutions for engaging consumers was the topic of the second morning session, which featured Julia Young (Manager, Global Forest and Trade Network, WWF-UK), Clare Tutenuit (Délégué Général, Entreprises pour l'Environnement EpE), Jorge Cajazeira (Director of Institutional Affairs, Suzano Pulp & Paper), Irina Coupé (EUTR Manager, Maisons du Monde), Duncan Brack (Associate Senior Fellow, Chatham House) and Michael Buckley (Managing Director, Turnstone Singapore). The speakers covered a range of related subjects, from consumer products-driven deforestation to consumer buying behavior and market trends for sustainable forest products in Asia, Western Europe and North America as well as case studies on how NGO’s, supply chain actors and governments are engaging consumers on sustainability and shaping markets for sustainable products, and new public private partnership and platforms seeking to “edit-out” from the supply chain commodities directly linked to deforestation.

The afternoon began with a series of ‘information blasts’ chaired by James Griffiths, PEFC International. Kathy Abusow, CEO, Sustainable Forestry Initiative in North America, revealed new developments in fiber sourcing. Hans Stout, Program Director, IDH Tropical Timber Program, discussed the Sustainable Trade Initiative on Pulp & Paper seeking to transform the Indonesian pulp and paper sector. Sabine Ritter, Executive VP Sustainability with the Consumer Goods Forum commented on the Zero Net Deforestation Commitment Activation-Toolkit and The Tropical Forest Alliance seeking to eliminate deforestation from palm oil, soya, beef and paper packaging supply chains by 2020. Gary Dunning, Executive Director of The Forests Dialogue at Yale University outlined the approach of linking sustainable landscapes with global supply chains for food, feed, fiber and fuel. Finally Thorsten Arndt, Head of Communications at PEFC International, presented the results of the latest consumer insights on forest certification. According to a survey of 1,300 people in 13 countries independent certification labels, such as the PEFC label, are the most trusted means of giving confidence to consumers that wood and paper-based products are sustainably sourced.    

Asia and Africa continue to be a priority

Participants then engaged in breakout groups working together to identify opportunities for action and collaboration to scale up forest certification to fully verify sustainable supply chains and brands. The exercise, used for the first time by PEFC, aimed at finding the challenges, key elements and opportunities in transforming forest certification from a ‘choice influencing’ to a ‘choice editing’ solution.  

In his closing statement, Ben Gunneberg, CEO of PEFC International, emphasized that “consumers increasingly trust certification labels like PEFC and expect companies to label products to help inform their purchasing.”

“As the world’s largest certification system, we need to work harder to keep up with this expanding demand for certified wood and timber products. By encouraging more supply chain actors, including fast moving consumer product brand owners and major retailers,  to use the PEFC logo we can help them connect with consumers on sustainable forest management in a very direct, tangible and credible way,” he stressed.

PEFC Chairman William Street concluded: “The supply chain design exercise confirmed the priority PEFC currently gives forest certification developments in Asia – especially India, China, Vietnam and Indonesia – is correct and we will continuing working with local partners in these countries via the Asia Promotions Initiative to scale-up certification. But it also reminded us of the important need to make forest certification work in Africa, in particular leveraging encouraging developments in Gabon, Cameroon and Congo, to enable access for sustainable tropical timber in European and North American markets and thereby ultimately safeguarding the unique ecosystems and contribution to sustainable livelihoods that these forests provide.”

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