Re-booting FSC: Confor to bring in members' motion at General Assembly in Seville

The Forest Stewardship Council is twenty years old, and like most adolescents it has had a troubled few years, perhaps lost its focus and not really delivered on its early potential. However, unlike most adolescents, it has over 600 people from all over the world attending its birthday party this week in Seville.

The FSC General Assembly occurs once every three years, and allows its global membership to meet and to debate, and to steer the organisation. It is this global membership and high level of democracy that is FSC's great (and unique) strength, but it is also its particular weakness. A horse designed by committee would look like a camel - and it is this requirement to please everyone that often means that FSC outcomes are poorly worded and overly complex.

After 20 years there is a real need for everyone involved with FSC to stand back and re-focus and not caught up with the detail and minutia, which often dominates General Assemblies.

FSC has perhaps been more successful than we realise, the UK's Forest Standard is now very similar to FSC requirements and applies to anyone who applies for a felling licence or a restocking grant; if you wish to import timber it must comply with EUTR, and the UK Governments CPET requires that all timber is demonstrably legal and sustainable. In 2013, over 90% of the timber used by the UK Contractors Group (representing the largest civil engineering companies in the UK) met those CPET requirements.

Is that enough? Should FSC, in the UK anyway, be satisfied with its work, and move away from trying to be the Gold Standard and simply support the wider use of sustainable timber and good forest management? Do the costs of FSC auditing meet the benefits? And - crucially for the sawmills, at a time of declining FC production - how can they source more certified timber?

For the first time yesterday, FSC hosted a strategy day, which was a welcome opportunity to try to answer some of the big questions about the way forward. Later in the week, there are two days of members' motions debates, including one from Confor requesting a review of audit procedures, so that costs for small forest owners can be reduced.

The key question for FSC, is how can it change from being a campaigning organisation to a more commercially aware and focussed deliverer of forest management standards whilst maintaining that enthusiasm and passion for ‘doing the right thing’.

If it chooses wrongly, it is feared that FSC will slowly become relevant to only the very elite of forest owners, not really interested in timber production; but if it gets it right, it can become increasingly relevant for the whole sector and a blue print for sustainable natural resources.

More info
Confor: Promoting forestry and wood represents around 2000 forest and wood-using businesses across the UK - see www.confor.org.uk

The FSC General Assembly 2014 live streams at http://ga2014.fsc.org/

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