The Role of Sustainability Certifications in Mitigating Deforestation

Deforestation

At COP26, more than 100 world leaders pledged up to $19bn USD to help tackle deforestation and forest degradation, which account for 8-10% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Many ears perked up at the prospect of deforestation hot spots, such as tropical forests in Indonesia and the Amazon, receiving much needed aid packages. The commitments are huge, the intentions noble, and the support for regions devastated by deforestation long overdue. But one has to wonder: Can GHG emissions from forest cover loss really be halted?

There is ample documentation of the extent of current forest devastation. For instance, organizations such as Global Forest Watch (https://www.globalforestwatch.org/) do an exceptional job of monitoring hot spots and deforestation clusters. But once the buzz of COP26 fades, what are the boots-on-the ground solutions that will ensure best practices are in place and deforestation is being proactively mitigated?

One part of the solution is sustainability certifications. A variety of certification and verification standards are available to confirm mitigation of deforestation in natural forests, tree plantations, agricultural operations, and other land usage. Third-party certification assessments are typically conducted at the forest, farm, or plantation level, where commodities grow, as well as throughout the chain of custody.

Tracing the commodities as they move through the supply chain frequently involves several steps along the way. For instance, once a log is harvested, it is transported to the sawmill. Rough dimensional lumber can then be shipped directly to a wholesaler or retailer, but wood destined for other uses such as flooring, moulding, cabinetry, instruments, toys, decorative trims, tool handles, etc. wind up at additional manufacturing and finishing stops along the way.  Careful inventory tracking protocols must be in place to ensure that sustainable and deforestation-free products are being properly labeled at every one of these stages, if retailers and consumers are to confidently buy products that are helping combat deforestation and sequester carbon to help address climate change.

Here are just a few examples of certification standards with built-in safeguards against deforestation.

REDD+ and Carbon Offset Verification

With a focus on reducing deforestation and forest degradation, REDD+ is a United Nations-backed framework developed to help countries implement programs to safeguard their forests and mitigate climate change. REDD+ brings together countries, private sector organizations, funds and others to support countries in their deforestation mitigation efforts and compensate them for the resulting reduced emissions. Such projects and programs implemented by countries must be independently verified.  This is where third-party certification bodies such as SCS Global Services come in to provide carbon offset verification based on standards such as the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), and the American Carbon Registry’s (ACR) Architecture for REDD+ Transactions REDD+ Environmental Excellence Standard (TREES). In addition, projects with exemplary social and environmental safeguards may be verified to the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards (CCBS) or the Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SD VISta).

Many of the programs being implemented can impact millions of hectares of forest within countries such as Indonesia, Brazil and other global deforestation hotspots where entire ecosystems have been ravaged. And while REDD+ verifications specifically address deforestation, there are also efforts afoot in these areas to stimulate reforestation and afforestation to add additional acreage of forests to lands that have been historically impacted by deforestation.

Mountains

Responsible Forestry

Well-known forestry management certifications such as the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®), the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®), and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and its national standards such as Responsible Wood in Australia and New Zealand are designed to ensure that certified forests are not converted to non-forest uses and that forest resources are managed responsibly, thereby preventing deforestation. These standards are intended to prevent deforestation and promulgate forest management best practices that are good for the environment, ecosystems and wildlife in and around the certified area, as well as local communities including inhabitants and workers. Another aspect of the standards are “deforestation cut-off dates”, which declare the last date in which deforestation practices are no longer tolerated. FSC forged the path for standard holders, becoming the first to implement its cut-off date in 1994.

For forest-based products, Chain-of-Custody (CoC) certifications are a way to support responsible forestry down the supply chain; FSC, SFI and PEFC CoC standards are rooted in demonstrating traceability of the product back to the forest. CoC certification is a way for wood processors, manufacturers, brands, and others to take a no-deforestation position by procuring responsibly sourced forest products that are independently certified to these standards.

Additionally, FSC has a Controlled Wood standard which allows for a mix of FSC certified wood and uncertified wood to co-exist in products. However, the uncertified wood can only be used if there is extremely low risk of being sourced from illegally harvested forests, forests where high conservation values are threatened by management activities, natural forests that were converted to non-forest uses or other factors associated with deforestation.

Biofuels and Agri Commodities

Biomass and other bio-based fuels and non-fuel products are all areas of intensive research and development as the global economy looks to increasingly shift away from fossil fuels to bio- and agri-based alternatives. The Roundtable for Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) standard, developed through a multi-stakeholder process establishes environmental stewardship best practices including deforestation along with stringent social responsibility practices. The RSB standard is recognized within the framework of the EU Renewable Energy Directive, a European regulation driving renewable fuels from sustainable, and deforestations-free sources. Similarly, the ISCC EU standard, another key certification approved under the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) regulatory framework, aims at achieving full traceability of products along with deforestation-free supply chains. As a no-deforestation standard with a strong commitment to protecting forests, high-carbon stock lands and biodiversity, ISCC supports the production of biomass and raw materials for biofuels, ensuring that no part of the operations undergoing certification has been subject to forest cover or high carbon stock loss after 1 January 2008.

Farm

Food and Agriculture

In the food and agriculture industry, certain sustainability certification programs have banned deforestation completely. Both Rainforest Alliance and SCS Global Services’ Sustainably Grown programs do not allow deforestation in any form after certain cut-off dates. Rainforest Alliance’s cut-off is January 1, 2014 and Sustainably Grown’s cut-off is July 1, 2016. Auditors have to be particularly careful to determine whether farming is occurring on or adjacent to previously forested land, particularly in deforestation hot spots. Satellite data can expose historical deforestation, thus nullifying a company’s eligibility to get a particular agricultural site or product certified.

In addition to food and agriculture producers certifying their products to these standards, a big push is coming from the retail side, particularly in Europe and the U.S., where major retailers are either favoring or requiring certified foods. In addition, a relatively new direction for some retailers is using certifications as a way of assuring that their supply chains are above board when it comes to deforestation. The retailer, Lidl, for example, explicitly does not allow anything into their supply that might have a high risk for deforestation. They have also committed to sourcing 100% of the palm oil and soy used in their house brand products from deforestation-free sources.

Palm Oil

A set of certification standards that straddles the food, biofuel, and consumer products industries is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), with the RSPO Principles & Criteria and the RSPO Supply Chain Certification Standard. Of the many industries that highly impact deforestation globally, the palm oil industry has come under significant and increasing public scrutiny for the destruction of tropical forests in order to plant oil palm plantations.

By some estimates, palm oil is an ingredient in 50% of the products in grocery stores, ranging from toothpaste, shampoo, soap, and laundry detergent to vegetable oil and soft-baked cookies. Palm oil isn’t going away anytime soon, so ensuring that it has come from a responsibly managed production source is essential.

The RSPO standards, which are revised every 5 years in a multi-stakeholder process, endeavor to decouple deforestation and the associated GHG emissions, from palm oil production. RSPO’s cut-off for no-deforestation practices is November 2004. RSPO Supply Chain Certification requires protection of oil palm plantations, workers, communities, wildlife habitats and biodiversity. Traceability is established by certifying the chain of custody for products made with palm oil, and RSPO certification is key to generating and sustaining market demand for deforestation-free supply chains.

Infographic of RSPO supply chain model

How Companies Can Help Fulfill the COP26 Deforestation Initiative

Products that explicitly or tacitly contribute to deforestation are no longer acceptable. This message has made it to all levels of global governance and supply chains. Such products are becoming increasingly unmarketable, particularly in western markets, and difficult to sell to retailers who have strong Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) sourcing policies in place. COP26 and other international gatherings showcase the need for additional regulatory and oversight measures to ensure the end of deforestation. Simultaneously, there is still much to be done throughout the world to broaden the adoption of certification standards, particularly in the eastern and southern hemispheres where satellite imagery clearly shows deforestation practices occurring and illegal logging and other practices detrimental to forest habitats.

SCS is at the forefront of working with organizations and standards that mitigate deforestation, certifying or consulting with companies around the world. Corporations have an opportunity through the establishment of strong ESG protocols, procurement guidelines and certifications to demonstrate that they are meeting no-deforestation and other corporate sustainability commitments. For businesses, certifications are a reliable way to translate the ideals of COP26 into viable and sustainable deforestation mitigation solutions.

With SCS, we can help guide you to determine which certification or solutions you need. Reach out to us for any questions about navigating your sustainability journey.

Tom Ehart

Author

Tom Ehart | Corporate Marketing Director
SCS Global Services
Contributing Authors from SCS: Francis Eaton, Kendra Bishop, Kevin Warner, Linda Brown, Matthew Rudolf, Miriam Swaffer, Stefan Bergmann
To find out more , contact Tom Ehart, or call 510.853.4657.