Our wood products at Rivanna have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) since before we shipped our first solid cherry plaque in 2002. Back then, the USDA organic label was just appearing, the FSC brand was largely unknown, and the great debates about responsible forestry were largely centered on which independent third-party standard would prevail. Our startup’s investment in FSC certification, the gold standard in responsible forest management, was considered overkill by some, quirky by others, and fiscally unsound by anyone who might have seen our financials.
In our first two years in business, we could count the number of prospects who knew about the FSC label on one hand. Despite our vow to focus our business development efforts on those who “got it” (ie, pioneering, self-identifying, responsible businesses and organizations clearly committed to the environment), for years we engaged in a valiant and time-consuming effort of market education. This is, of course, generally not where you want to find yourself in business. Anticipating demand is one thing; painstakingly creating it is another.
If you care about the environment, the uninitiated would ask us, why are you making wood products? We make FSC certified wood products, we would say, because forests matter and we care about indigenous communities. For those still skeptical, we offered a longer response: when there is sufficient global demand for sustainably produced forest products and sufficient economic opportunity for forest-dependent communities to embrace responsible forest management, rampant deforestation and illegal logging can and will subside. Forest-dependent communities will thrive. The world will be a better place. This was not our elevator pitch, but it was the conviction at the heart of our work. It still is today.
Today, thankfully, we no longer have to explain the FSC label to everyone who is interested in our company or our products. We’ve seen demand for certified forest products increase in our industry and many others. There are also promising signs that anti-deforestation efforts are making headway in some parts of the world. Progress has been made. And, of course, there is more work to be done.
After the World Forest Summit earlier this month, WRI’s Ruth Noguerón, in outlining the serious challenges to sustaining global forests, asked a key question: How can we use the world’s forests to build a thriving global green economy? Those of us in the west can do our part by continuing to build demand for high value, high quality FSC-certified forest products. We can also continue to educate others about the ecological and socio-economic value of well-managed forests and forest product supply chains. By communicating both the sanctity and the promise of the world’s forests, we can help forest-dependent communities maintain better ecosystems and build better futures for themselves and, ultimately, for us all.
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