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Friday, 19 December 2014
Responsible Environmental Claims in the Forest Products Sector

 (© SCS Global Services)© SCS Global Services

December 19, 2014

By Robert J. Hrubes, Ph.D.
SCS Global Services, Executive Vice President

Words matter.  Take “sustainability,” for instance. Twenty years ago, when the FSC was born, we argued long and hard over this term and its aptness for describing the claim and substance of what it means to be certified. Ultimately, the term “sustainable forestry” was rejected as an overreach. We realized that the true sustainability of forestry practices could only be confirmed over time. We opted instead for the more conservative claim, “responsible forestry.”  

However, not everyone is as committed to precision in language; the meaning of “sustainability” has long ago eroded to meaninglessness as marketers jump on the bandwagon to describe just about any characteristic of their products, services, and management systems.  

Complicating matters further for the forest products industry is another term that has gained traction in recent years – “transparency.” In the greenbuilding sector, life-cycle assessment (LCA) is being touted as the key to full transparency. While LCA can in fact be a tremendous tool for increasing transparency, most LCA practice today does not deliver on the promise. In fact, a recent Environmental Product Declaration for North American softwood that purported to provide this transparency was based on an LCA that looked at only six environmental indicators, while failing to even consider the impacts on habitats and species! Not only is this non-transparent, it amounts to greenwashing, and it diminishes the importance of the FSC certification message.   

Fortunately, this overreach has not gone unnoticed. Environmental NGOs have highlighted and criticized the practice of conducting LCAs with an inadequate and self-serving number of environmental indicators, and a new national LCA standard being developed under the American National Standards Institute process will guide future LCA practitioners in more responsible and transparent assessments. Those of us working for forest stewardship should continue to pay close attention to these developments.

 (© Collins)© Collins