Impact of forest certification in developing countries examined



Benjamin Cashore
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New Haven, Conn. -- A market-based system to protect global forests is struggling to take root in developing countries, according to a recently published book in the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies Publication Series.

"Confronting Sustainability: Forest Certification in Developing and Transitioning Countries," edited by Benjamin Cashore (Yale University), Fred Gale (University of Tasmania, Australia), Errol Meidinger (SUNY Buffalo) and Deanna Newsom (Rainforest Alliance), assesses the effectiveness of forest certification programs that give consumers, retailers and manufacturers the opportunity to purchase products derived from environmentally and socially responsible forest operations.

The 16-country comparative, historical analysis, spanning 622 pages, reveals that existing interest and commitments from North American and European markets have not been strong enough to influence forest management choices significantly in some of the world's most environmentally sensitive forests.

The editors argue that the success of forest certification depends on a heightened level of concern and awareness on the part of the world's wealthiest consumers of forest products, whose consumption habits currently feed tropical forest destruction. For example, an increased demand for certified forest products could have a huge impact on China's use of timber, since the bulk of their products are destined for foreign markets.

Critical findings from the book emphasize a need for the increased commercial support of forest certification, as firms undergoing the process are required to undertake critical improvements in their environmental and social practices.

In addition, forest certification programs have generated significant opportunities for public participation, exchange and learning among industrial, environmental and social organizations and indigenous peoples. For instance, forest certification has led to a much greater understanding of the role of ancient, old-growth and other high-conservation-value forests.

While promoting responsible forestry, certification is also a critical tool for avoiding inadvertent purchase of materials from companies that destroy the forest environment. "For years there was no way of knowing whether the products we were purchasing were contributing to the destruction of the world's most critical forests," say the editors. "Now that we have this ability, customers need to put their money where their mouths are and purchase certified products."

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The study represents a significant collaborative endeavour with a common template used to assess the historical development of forest certification in 16 countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific. In an innovative effort to present a comprehensive and culturally accurate analysis, the editors used nationally based researchers to minimize Western bias and academic imperialism, and to engage in globally collaborative research.

The preliminary results were presented by case-study authors at a symposium held at Yale in 2004 and manuscripts were substantially revised for this final volume. Books in the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies Publication Series are available online at www.yale.edu/environment/publications for purchase, or to download free, as PDF files.


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