Guidance v1.0 Resources for Wood and Agrifiber Products

Overview: Certifications in SPLC’s Guidance v1.0

The Council recognizes the important role that certifications and standards have played–and will continue to play–in supporting institutional leadership in sustainable purchasing. At their best, sustainability-oriented labels, standards, and certifications translate expert knowledge about the most significant impacts associated with a particular product category–and about best practices that meaningfully address those impacts–into a consistent, practical framework for decision-making. SPLC seeks to build upon the decades of valuable work that stakeholders have invested in the creation of such high quality standards and certifications by integrating them into our Guidance v1.0 and, ultimately, into our Rating System for Leadership in Sustainable Purchasing.

As a first step toward such integration, in developing the Council’s Guidance v1.0, each Technical Advisory Group sought to understand and communicate the extent to which various certifications and product labels evaluate and measure the most significant environmental, social, and economic impacts of relevant products or services. This information allows purchasers to align the certifications they specify with their strategic sustainability goals.

Information regarding how paper- and wood-related certifications map to the most significant impacts associated with this type of purchasing are available on this page. The significant impacts of paper, agreed upon by the Wood Technical Advisory Group, are explored in the Understanding section.

The following programs have provided information about their certification as it pertains to the impacts described below:

If your organization would like to include information about its wood certification, please contact Khadija@sustainablepurchasing.org to obtain the form.

Understanding: why should we care about paper purchasing?

Forest degradation and fragmentation

While some timber does come from well-managed forests and plantations, that sourced from illegal logging and old growth and high conservation value forests[i] exacerbates and accelerates all of the impacts discussed below.

Biomaterial depletion

Wood is engineered and synthesized by nature, biodegradable and, if forests are managed well, renewable. Paper is made from renewable resources, and responsibly produced and used paper has many advantages over other, non-renewable alternative materials. According to the World Resources Fund, the pulp and paper industry accounts for 40 percent of the industrial wood traded globally.

Economic Impacts of Illegal Logging

According to the World Wildlife Fund, illegal logging is “the harvesting, transporting, processing, buying or selling of timber in violation of national laws.” This also includes “harvesting wood from protected areas, exporting threatened plant or tree species, and falsifying official documents.”[ii]

Illegal logging often involves actions such as breaking license agreements, tax evasion, corrupting government officials and interfering with access and rights to forest areas. In 2004, the American Forest & Paper Association estimated that illegal logging depresses world timber prices by between 7% and 16% (depending on product), attributable to over $460 million (USD) in losses annually.[iii]

Land use & ecosystem change

Forests cover 30 percent of the world’s land area[iv] and are home to 70 million species. Around 80 percent of species live in tropical rainforests alone, which puts the vast majority of Earth’s biodiversity at risk when disruption to forests occurs. For example, disruption results in changes to food, shelter, and migration routes for some species; those unable to adapt must either find a new habitat or fail to survive. For humans, forests provide a critical ecosystem services, including filtering our air and water.

Forest conversion

In order to accommodate demand for various wood-based products, forests may be transitioned to a plantation setting or from one forest cover type to another forest cover type. As a result, the ecosystem services provided by the natural setting are disrupted. For example, forests provide carbon sequestration,[v] which serves as an offset to carbon emissions. Converting forests is not only energy intensive, but also results in the release of sequestered carbon throughout the process.

Additionally, while 10 percent of the world’s population (including the United States) demands 50 percent of the paper,[vi] most forest conversion happens in tropical areas; this disproportionately impacts specific human populations residing in tropical areas who do not see the benefits.

Global warming potential over lifecycle

Deforestation and forest destruction is the second leading cause of carbon pollution, causing 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions[vii] and removing natural carbon sinks. Additionally, processing and manufacturing of paper products is energy intensive.

Local community impacts

According to the World Wildlife Fund, forests “contribute toward the livelihoods to 90 percent of the over one billion people living in extreme poverty.”[viii] These communities depend on forests for services of survival, including food and shelter, medicine and fuel. Impoverished communities have limited capacity to adapt to disruption.

Soil health, compaction

Poor forest management accelerates soil erosion, resulting in increased runoff. Thinning tree cover allows for soils to heat up and dry out, further diminishing the forest’s ability to function,.

Agrochemical use

The harvesting and manufacture of wood requires a variety of intense chemicals including preservatives, biocides and pesticides, and chlorine. These chemicals pollute water suppliers and also impact those who are exposed to the chemicals throughout the production process.

Freshwater toxicity potential

The combination of soil runoff and chemical use throughout the production process depletes water quality, including limited sources of global freshwater. This negatively affects both human health and ecosystem health.

Loss of indigenous culture, identity, rights

Many indigenous populations use forests and adjacent areas for subsistence hunting and fishing as well as cultural sites. While indigenous peoples hold collectively rights to these resources, their displacement results in loss of access and use of and rights to the land.

Conflict timber

Conflict timber refers to “timber that has been traded at some point in the chain of custody by armed groups…either to perpetuate conflict or take advantage of conflict situations for personal gain… conflict timber is not necessarily illegal.”[ix]

This can be perpetuated in a number of ways including:

  • Timber revenues funding the purchase of weapons.
  • Timber exploitation causing further conflict because of disputes over issues such as resource ownership, access to benefits, social or worker conflicts, or displacement of forest-dwelling communities.[x]
Workers’ health, safety, and rights

Timber harvesting and manufacturing requires dangerous work, including large-scale cutting and drilling, and exposure to chemicals, noise, and dust. Wood dust is highly flammable and—alongside chemicals use in processing—poses further risk for workers.

Depending on the quality of the operation, there may or may not be procedures for dealing with injuries, insurance for staff, or medical facilities available to adequately treat those who are injured.

[i] World Wildlife Fund. The WWF Guide to Buying Paper. page 2. http://wwf.panda.org/how_you_can_help/live_green/fsc/save_paper/paper_toolbox/the_wwf_guide_to_buying_paper/

[ii] World Wildlife Fund. Illegal Logging. http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/about_forests/deforestation/forest_illegal_logging/

[iii] The Economist. Down in the Woods. March 2006. http://www.economist.com/node/5654971

[iv] Forest and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Forestry. http://www.fao.org/docrep/014/am859e/am859e08.pdf

[v] http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/sources/lulucf.html

[vi] Forest and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. State of the World’s Forests 2011. 2011. (table 1 and table 5)

[vii] Forest Stewardship Council website. FSC.org Accessed January 17, 2015.

[viii] World Wildlife Fund. Responsible Forestry. http://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/responsible-forestry

[ix] Global Witness 2002 cited in Le Billon 2003

[x] United Nations Environment Programme. Environmental and Socioeconomic Impacts of Armed Conflict. http://www.unep.org/dewa/Africa/publications/AEO-2/content/205.htm