CEE retailers do not fully use the opportunities of sustainable product promotion

Posted on 22 June 2016

The forest sustainability standard FSC is still better known in Western Europe
Some 35 million forest hectares in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) are already certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a global standard that ensures responsible forest management worldwide. This means that an increasing number of products in retail stores like METRO, IKEA, Mr. Bricolage and supermarkets bear the FSC logo. The FSC sign means that all units in the product production chain – from the forest to the consumer – are FSC-certified.
What does this mean for our forests? The strict requirements of the FSC certificate ensure that forest management is not only economically viable but also that it observes the rights of workers and local people and protects nature. For example, FSC does not allow natural forests to be converted into plantations or lands for other types of use and prohibits GMOs and dangerous pesticides. There are also strict requirements on worker safety, social security payments and respecting the rights, needs and opinions of local people when managing the forest resource. An independent controlling body checks certificate holders at least once a year and withdraws the certificate in case of big violations.
However, “Leading companies and retailers in CEE do not yet fully use the opportunities to promote the sustainable products they sell”, says Key Account Manager at the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) International Felix Romero.  „They could make them more visible in their stores or creatе consumer awareness”, Romero says.
“In Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland and Slovenia, all – or almost all – forests are certified. Yet, although corporate social responsibility (CSR) is “the new kid on the block”, companies do not fully use the opportunities to promote certified products as a tool for creating a positive image, even though 82% of FSC certificate holders we interviewed in 2014 said that FSC labels do add value to their products. Ninety per cent also said that FSC helps create a positive corporate image”, Romero said. 
There are currently 190 million hectares of FSC-certified forests in the world and most of them, 47.2%, are in Europe. However, the FSC logo is far better known in Western Europe than in CEE despite the fact that the certified areas in CEE are about twice bigger, Romero says.   

One reason for this might be that the timber harvested in CEE is mostly exported raw. Few products are processed and sold in the country of origin and so promoting FSC products is not seen as immediately necessary. For example, Bulgaria produces seven million cubic metres of raw timber annually and exports about four-five cubic metres as firewood to Greece and Turkey. Only 1-2 million of them (30%) are processed. The situation is similar in Romania: less than 10% of harvested wood is processed. Most raw wood is exported and local industries are declining steadily.
Some 10% of Ukrainian, 16% of Hungarian, 20% of Bulgarian and 35% of Romanian forests are already FSC-certified and the process of certification continues, which means the opportunities for popularizing the certificate are constantly growing. “There will be a moment in which Central and Eastern European countries will stop exporting timber. To maintain the certificate when the international demand is not so important, these countries will need to create local demand”, Romero says.
One way to do that is by advocating for more public use of certified products. Cities and municipalities can, for example, include incentives in their public procurement policies for companies that offer FSC-certified products, Romero says. NGOs can also continue their work to raise awareness of the FSC logo and the benefits of FSC certification.
Currently, FSC certification in Bulgaria is to a big extent promoted and initiated by the government and supported by WWF-Bulgaria, but it is also largely driven by the demands of Western European markets. In the past six years, a growing number of companies have started to require the FSC certificate, says Yordan Yonchev, director of the Berkovitsa State Forest Enterprise in Northwestern Bulgaria. This pushes forest enterprises like his own to get certified to keep and expand their markets. This economic incentive is one of the reasons FSC certification has been growing since 2008 despite the economic crisis and the high costs of certification.
In the EU, forest certification is seen as an additional way to ensure responsible wood sourcing. The EU Timber Regulation, or EUTR, is designed to keep illegally sourced timber out of the marketplace, but it is still applied inconsistently throughout the Union. Additionally, less than half (by value) of the products entering the EU are covered by the EUTR. For example, the law does not control items such as chairs, toys, books, musical instruments, charcoal, wine racks, clothes pegs, and many more. This means that products made from illegal timber still end up on the EU market.
“Certification is growing in the Balkans and the rest of CEE and this is linked to the idea that, on the one hand, the EUTR is there, but on the other, it is clear that Europe is moving towards certificate schemes as a further way of controlling wood sourcing and FSC is one of the best ways to ensure legality and sustainability, as well as to get this efforts recognized in the market”, Romero says.

The FSC logo is still better known in Western Europe although most certified areas are Eastern European.
© N.C. Turner / WWF
FSC-certified area in the world as of March 2016
© FSC International