Environment School releases book on sustainability

It may be a coincidence that the heaviest book the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies has printed, weighing in at around three pounds and 622 pages long, documents the state of paper and other forest-certified products from developing countries.

The FES Publication Series recently published “Confronting Sustainability: Forest Certification in Developing and Transitioning Countries,” an analysis of forest certification programs — which certify paper and wood products from sustainably managed forests — in 16 countries located in the tropical regions. Professor Benjamin Cashore, director of the program on forest certification at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, led the four-year effort on the collaborative research project that also included editors from State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Tasmania, Australia and the Rainforest Alliance.

“What made this project different from others is the uniqueness of the research design on a broader scale than a couple countries,” Cashore said. “We picked researchers with experience in forestry who were actually from the country being studied.”

The researchers worked to a common template developed by the editors to conduct and write up case studies of certification in their national jurisdictions. In addition to collecting background information on the forest situation within their countries and the progress of certification to date, the researchers were asked to concentrate specifically on analyzing what problems certification had been introduced to, discuss whether certification had made a difference in addressing the issues, what difficulties certification encountered, and what challenges were faced to ensure certification moved forward, University of Tasmania professor Fred Gale, an editor of the book, said in an e-mail.

Employing a comparative social science tone, each chapter of the book on different forests includes historical narratives and analysis from people of varying fields of expertise, from biology to economics to political science. Experts and contributors analyzed programs, highlighted problems, and raised questions about certification in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

One of the primary goals of the project was to produce a more comprehensive compilation of analysis on various certification programs throughout the world, especially in the southern and tropical regions, where not much research has been compiled before.

“It’s amazing that despite all the experts there are, how many of them are not experts beyond that country,” Cashore said. “We wanted to really assess the situations so we included practitioners, policy people and scholars in order to make rigorous descriptions and snapshots so that people can understand what is going on in these countries.”

The editors said another goal of the publication was to present the lessons, puzzles and problems that arise from studying each country. For example, in Gabon, a country in west central Africa that encourages sustainable management of its forests, the forest industry has been losing its Eastern European market to China, which does not promote sustainability.

Cashore said that Americans, Canadians and Europeans should not look to China to place the blame for non-environmentally friendly forest management; they only need to look in the mirror because the supply of non-environmentally friendly products from China only exists due to the western world’s demand for cheap paper and wood products.

“What happens in developing countries has the largest effect in [developed] countries due to globalization,” said Deanna Newsom, an editor of the book and an independent consultant for the Rainforest Alliance. “In order for forest certification to happen, we need to examine the relationship between northern countries and southern developing countries.”

Although people within the forestry community and industry are well aware of forest certification, not many people outside the community know about it. But certified forest products are easing their way into the market, making consumers aware of them.

“Certified forest products are coming onto the radar,” said Connie McDermott, the program director of forestry policy and governance at Yale. “I was in Kinko’s the other day and I could choose [Forest Stewardship Council] certified paper. One of the goals of forest certification is simply to make people more aware of where their products are coming from. This is the first step to try and promote environmental and social health sustainability.”

With recycling bins readily available almost everywhere on campus, and organic, sustainable and fair trade options available in the dining halls, Yale has made significant steps in maintaining an environmentally friendly campus. Cashore said this commitment should eventually include certified forest products.

“Yalies are the group most likely to first act, and I would certainly hope that they do so,” he said.

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