Interview with Kim Carstensen, new FSC Director General
Carstensen has worked with legislators, businesses and sees himself as an advocate of the poor. He has lived and helped shape an important part of recent environmental history - representing WWF as one of two NGOs on the Danish delegation in Rio in 1992. He remembers the disappointment when nothing substantial was agreed through the policy process on forests, and how this led to WWF exploring market alternatives. In many ways, this was the conception of the very organisation he is now leading 20 years later.
It is not all lofty global processes. Carstensen also remembers the difficulties of FSC work in the initial stages in Denmark, and trying to convince forest owners of the value of becoming certified and companies to ask for and source FSC products. Besides many fond experiences from that time, Carstensen also holds an important memento: a beautiful cutting board, which is one of the first pieces of FSC certified timber in Denmark.
Nina Haase, MTI Communications Manager, spoke to Kim Carstensen on his 11th day on the job – so fresh still that sometimes the new Director General would mix up the acronyms of the various organisations he is now working with.
What made you leave your own consultancy that you run in partnership with your wife, to now lead the FSC?
I was asking myself that same question. We were having enormous fun with our own company, doing things that we felt were groundbreaking, working with partners in the South to define what a Green Economy would look like if it was to be good for the poor and socially just.
To be honest, when I was first approached for this FSC job, I was not very interested. But then through the interview process, I increasingly saw that the FSC was in pretty good shape, that a lot of improvements had been made in the last five to six years.
So I felt there was a good basis. And some very interesting and important challenges, to which I thought I could bring some good experiences from my experience working with WWF and on my own. I thought we’d make a good match.
And apparently not only you thought so. I hear your appointment was unanimous by the FSC Board of Directors.
That is really important. It is key for me to be able to work across all three chambers and the people within the chambers. Of course representatives will fight for their own interests, but in the FSC they need to come together and agree on key decisions. And I would think the appointment of a Director General is one of them.
Looking at your experience, you have worked with all three stakeholder groups. Maybe not surprising that the different interests were able to come together around your appointment in the way that they have.
I am of course, an environmentalist, but in many ways I feel as much an agent for social interest. My background is that of a sociologist. The first task I did for WWF-Denmark back in the late '80s was to make sure that WWF-Denmark’s portfolio in Africa was also beneficial for people. I always felt myself very much as a people’s representative inside the environmental movement, while at the same time of course a full-bodied member of the movement itself.
Does that mean that we will see stronger social criteria for the FSC?
That I don’t know. We just have been through a review of the Principles and Criteria for FSC International. But we will certainly see an interest from my side to engage with the Social Chamber inside the FSC.
Over the past few years the FSC has been quite good at reaching out to the Economic Chamber, to the big and small companies who are so important for the market penetration of FSC products all over the world. FSC has become good at that and that is certainly something we would want to continue. But at the same time, I will want us to also have a very strong focus on our constituencies on the social side: Indigenous Peoples Groups, Trade Unions and others, so we maintain a true balance between all three interests: the social, environmental and economic.
You mentioned challenges and opportunities. Where do you see them?
It is important that we maintain a true balance between the various interests in the organisation. We have to maintain the attention we have developed on the economic side and match that with equally strong interest from the social and environmental side.
There are also some very important issues that will come up. Some of which have been with us for a long time. We have not yet managed to get FSC to be the mainstay for sustainable forest management in the tropics, and particularly not in Africa. There is a huge challenge there to get activities going in Africa.
Another big challenge related to this is how do we move FSC beyond its stronghold in Europe and North America and into emerging markets, and particularly China and India? That is another big one.
Of course an overall challenge is to maintain credibility. We have seen enormous growth over the last few years. And now we need new systems and technologies that allow us to maintain credibility of a system that is much larger now than ever before.
Speaking about credibility. There is of course the system integrity, the processes and procedure. But there is also the ability to demonstrate impact in the field, to demonstrate that all these complex systems yield real positive change where it matters.
My sense is that we have some bits of answers, we have some good illustrations of how FSC certification matters. But there is a lot more that must be done to fully demonstrate the impacts of FSC certification. I am convinced positive impacts are there. But I am also convinced that more research needs to be done so we understand what the impacts are and where they are strongest and where they are weakest.
I am not sure yet how to address this. FSC is not itself a research organisation. And I am not convinced FSC should be analyzing itself. We believe very much in third-party verification. But it is an important issue that we need to figure out.
Impact is positive change times uptake. Compared with some younger certification systems, FSC is growing comparatively slowly. Do you see this as an issue?
Well, FSC has grown tremendously over the past 4-5 years, and I am as interested in consolidating that growth into a truly functioning global organization as I am in continuing the level of growth. Growth is important of course, but even more important is that we have a strong organization that can deliver on the ground, and that we begin to grow in those areas where we have not been growing so far, namely in tropical forest and smallholder certification.
I would like to see a clear strategically targeted growth in tropical forests and small holder forests, and succeeding in those areas would make me even more proud than just maintaining massive overall growth figures.
Looking beyond FSC now. FSC stood as the model for many certification systems. What do you see as the main lessons learned from FSC?
There was much learning in how to make a true multi-stakeholder environment work. This resulted in certain governance features either being dropped or adopted by others. The whole notion of doing something that includes social, environmental and economic interests is one that we have learned a lot from. We learned how difficult it can be, but also how powerful it is when it functions.
And we have demonstrated to the world that it is possible. Of course we need to get better at documenting and demonstrating the impacts - show that we are actually achieving what we set out to do. But I believe we have demonstrated that it is possible, not only to talk about environmental, social, or economic interests individually, but all at once. That will always result in compromise. That will always be more fuzzy, never as clear, edgy and sharp as you would want it to be if you only had one perspective. And it will take time. But it is also much stronger and more durable in the long run. These are important lessons not only of relevance to the newer certification schemes, but also for the world as a whole.
What role would you like to see WWF play?
WWF is of enormous importance to FSC. There are several roles.
One is as a partner everywhere FSC works on the ground. The global WWF network also is tremendously powerful and important. WWF has offices in pretty much all the places that FSC operates in.
Another one is to be a strong partner to help maintain and further develop FSC standards. Here, WWF has an enormously important role with its long-term experience working on forest issues. But also being a watchdog and bringing up issues, where WWF sees that something is not going the way it should be – be it with individual certifications, or more generally.
And lastly, in helping with communication. Informing people. Getting the word out. Not only about FSC, but about the importance of forests for biodiversity, people, environmental services and business. This understanding is so important and a necessary prerequisite for people to buy sustainable timber. Why should they otherwise care?
When will you have been successful as FSC Director General?
I think I will see myself as a success, if in five or ten years, the membership of the FSC, meaning the companies, social and environmental organisations will still find FSC to be the go-to certification system for forest products, and think that the FSC is in much better shape then, than when I started.