“Some of us thought becoming FSC certified would only take six months,” laughs Ricardo Schaffner. “We never imagined the impact it would have.”
Ricardo is Director of Forestry Development at Arauco, which decided to pursue Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification in late 2009. By the time they became certified, in September 2013, the Chilean company had been turned upside-down.
Arauco was already certified by PEFC, the industry-led forest certification scheme. But it quickly became apparent that the more rigorous demands of FSC would be a different challenge: becoming FSC certified was not just about improving forest management practices, but about reassessing the way the company related to society. “The changes necessary were bigger than we’d visualized and different from what we were used to,” says Ricardo. “The solutions had to be developed with other stakeholders.”
Civil society engagement
Initially, the company encountered scepticism. The forestry industry in Chile has not had the best relationship with environmentalists and civil society. In the past, parts of Chile’s temperate rainforest have been converted to pine and eucalyptus plantations. There have been conflicts with local communities, including the indigenous Mapuche people, over land rights and water shortages.
Realising that certification would require major changes, Arauco set up forums where civil society organisations could exchange views on key environmental and social issues. Around 80 civil society representatives took part, including WWF.
The company implemented more than 40 of the forums’ proposals. “These can be broadly grouped into changes that have improved working conditions, changes that have improved environmental performance, and changes that have helped the social aspect and relationships with communities,” explains Ricardo.
One demand from civil society was that Arauco should compensate for any forest conversion after 1994 (the FSC cut-off date) by restoring an equivalent area of native forest. Identifying these areas was complex – recent conversion tended to concern small, scattered patches of secondary vegetation, and not all the land was owned by Arauco at the time conversion took place. Following studies by Austral University, the company committed to restoring 25,064 hectares of native forest and shrubland (2.5% of the company´s landholdings). WWF has been working with Arauco to ensure this restoration effort – one of the largest ever seen in Chile – brings maximum benefits for biodiversity, ecosystem services and local development.
In addition, Arauco committed to conserving and enhancing areas of high conservation value (HCV). The company had already set aside 389,000 hectares of native forest– around a third of its land area – for permanent protection, but only 2,900 hectares were actively managed. Through the FSC process, Arauco has identified HCV areas covering 62,763 hectares. These include 37 ecologically significant areas and another 69 areas of social and cultural importance. It now has an active conservation plan in place for each.