Expert article
Modifier 09 June 2022
by Rossella Soldi

Forest certification in and around UFIL: a multi-functional driver

The first public forest in the region to be certified for ecosystem services
The first public forest in the region to be certified for ecosystem services
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international organisation promoting the responsible management of forests, and is one of the partners of the Urban Forest Innovation Lab (UFIL) project. This web article looks at the opportunities offered to the project by including in the project’s partnership this international certification entity, and at the variety of roles FSC, along with its mission, pursues in the project.

The article is based on a talk held at the end of May 2022 with Gonzalo Anguita, Executive Director of FSC Spain.

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FSC is a highly desirable partner to involve in projects. Potential applicants to EU funding may be curious to know how this involvement is possible. Gonzalo, do you have standard rules for joining a project? Why did FSC decide to participate in UFIL?

Indeed, we receive several proposals for cooperation in potential projects, and because of that we are obliged to make a selection, but we do not have standard rules to follow when deciding our participation in consortia. With regard to our participation in UFIL, the decision was driven by multiple factors. First, we were very much attracted by the entrepreneurship component of the project that adds important value to the training element. Second, we knew some of the project’s partners, including the Municipality, Khora Urban Thinkers and the European Design Institute, and this contributed to add credibility to the initiative. Finally, we had an interest in the dissemination of FSC certification across the region as it was fully in line with FSC board’s strategic plan.

 

 

Gonzalo Anguita and FSC team members in UFIL
Gonzalo Anguita, Executive Director of FSC Spain, and some of the FSC team members working in UFIL   

 

Gonzalo, you are personally involved in the implementation of UFIL. Which is FSC role in the project? Is it a merely educational one?

FSC educational role in the innovation lab is the most evident, and we are contributing as planned with our internal resources and the use of contractors to the activities of the lab. Still, the most important aspect for us is the entrepreneurial one and I have been working constantly to build the timber market in and around UFIL. For example, FSC has involved IKEA in proposing a challenge during the second course of the innovation lab. It has also involved Lignum Tech, a manufacturing company created by Vía Ágora. Lignum Tech is setting in Cuenca a production site for assets addressed to the real estates’ market. It will use local wood, thus creating demand for quality wood in the province and impacting directly through the employment of some 60 people. Besides our efforts to develop a construction value chain around the project, FSC keeps supporting some of the new companies created by UFIL’s participants (i.e., Cambium, Nemetona and Dendrum) through networking and identification of market opportunities.

Apart from the educational and entrepreneurial roles of FSC, it is evident that forest certification has an environmental role. Provided that Cuenca is the only province in Castilla-La Mancha having certified public forests, the most common certification (over 51,000 hectares) is PEFC (Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification). Still, recently, the regional administration started pushing for the dissemination of FSC. In April 2021, the regional government of Castilla-La Mancha approved the provision of technical assistance for the dissemination of FSC across the region, starting from the provinces of Cuenca, Guadalajara and Toledo. The aim is to give a seal of quality management to the region's forests which represent almost half of the region’s total area. FSC Forest Management certification was granted to 11 public forests of the Province of Cuenca, out of which seven are owned by the Municipality of Cuenca. This adds to the first FSC certification of Ecosystem Services granted to one of the city’s forests (‘Los Palancares y Aggregados'), and to the FSC Chain of Custody certification granted to the municipal wood factory ACMSA (ACMSA is also a partner in UFIL). Overall, the city has now 20,000 hectares that are FSC certified. Additional 16,000 hectares are FSC certified in other municipalities of the province (i.e., Las Majadas, Huelamo, Talayuelas and Tragacete) (Ayuntamento de Cuenca, 2022; UFIL blog, 2022). Gonzalo, is the presence of FSC in UFIL part of this bigger picture of regional expansion?

We expect to certify shortly  some more 10,000 hectares. This will bring to 45,000 hectares the area of Castilla-La Mancha that is FSC certified for forest management. As mentioned earlier, our interest in consolidating FSC certification in the region was one of the reasons why we participated in the project. But this consolidation would have not been possible without the political willingness of regional and local (i.e., the Cuenca ’s City Hall) public authorities. There are also areas where we would have liked to progress further, but that are still immature. For example, we would have liked to involve private forest owners/managers so as to increase the quality of their wood output; to bring value to the construction value chain of the City of Cuenca - and we presented to the City Hall a public procurement programme towards this goal; and to develop a business case for the Palancares forest area based on its certified ecosystem services so as to get concrete value and benefits for the territory. But this last aspect is not that easy, considering that in Europe a business model for ecosystem services does not exist, yet.

Will FSC keep on pushing all these processes after the completion of UFIL?  

These processes are part of our routine work, but, honestly, our capacity was significantly strengthened by the funding received through UFIL, allowing us to focus also on key areas such as the development of a certified wood value chain.

Another role that may be attributed to forest certification is linked to reputation. Gonzalo, is a forest-based bioeconomy possible without forest management being certified?

Currently, there are marketing messages going around, especially addressed to young people, linking wood products to the destruction of forests, thus inviting to purchase, for example, recycled furniture. The critical attitude of young people towards actions undertaken in the past is something we need to take into account. We need to prove that our timber is enough and healthy (i.e., well-managed). That is why a verified management seal is important now, but it will be even more important in the future. Of course, it is challenged by global trends as it may be that, for example, the existing forest management plans become inadequate to take climate change into account. Still, certification is, and will be, important in order to remain accountable towards an increasingly conscious society where people want to play a role and drive change with their choices to the benefit of the planet. 

ACMSA chain of custody certification
FSC Chain of Custody certification ensures that wood products coming out from the municipal sawmill are obtained from well-managed forests

 

UFIL is an ambitious project aimed at initiating the systematic use of its forests and wood through the development of a bioeconomy. The bulk of the project is the innovation lab where future entrepreneurs are supported and nurtured to trigger the development of forest-based entrepreneurial ideas. But these future entrepreneurs and their ideas are like few seeds planted in a huge field. This scale gap is clear to FSC and explains its efforts towards the development of economic and market mechanisms around the project.

Leverages for the development of a wood construction value chain, business cases for forest ecosystem services, a public procurement programme for the use of wood in urban buildings, wood quality increase from both public and private forests’ owners/managers - all these initiatives/attempts are aimed at creating value and benefits from the local to the regional level. Thus, the role of FSC in the project is, indeed, a multi-functional one and serves educational, environmental, reputation and economic scopes. On the latter, FSC importantly works to develop a wood market, inclusive of quality offer and constant demand, both of which are at the core of the socio-economic development foreseen by the UIA initiative.

Also important is Gonzalo Anguita's warning to take into due account the growing role of civil society - and in particular of the new generations - in deciding the way the environment and its natural resources are to be treated. This, added to global trends, may imply a paradigm shift in the current way forests are managed and bioeconomies are imagined.

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