Study shows sustainability strengths, challenges and drivers in forestry

A sustainability scoping study across the forest and wood products sector has uncovered the strengths, challenges and motivators in sustainability actions and reporting. There is opportunity for the results of the study to be used by the industry to help build capacity around sustainability issues, while aiding the coordination of a sector-wide approach.

Last year, FWPA engaged Dr Robyn Leeson, Vice-Chair of the Global Sustainability Standards Board and Principal at STR Consulting, to undertake a study that would test the industry’s overall approach to sustainability. 

The initiative was implemented to develop the outcome of increased sustainability credentials, as outlined in the FWPA Strategic Plan 2017-2022.

Jodie Mason, Forest Research Manager at FWPA, said initial desktop research into the industry’s efforts around sustainability revealed a strong sector-wide focus on a specific group of issues. These include compliance, forest carbon, health and safety, energy and biodiversity.

“In addition, there are many other issues reflected by large portions of the sector, but that resonate more strongly with specific parts of the value chain than others. For instance, asset owners and plantation managers place a bigger focus on issues such as fire and genetically modified organisms, while wood product manufacturers take a greater interest in low-emission products,” Ms Mason said.

While the areas of focus in the Australian forest industry’s approach to sustainability were found to be reflective of the approaches taken in other major sustainability frameworks globally, the research highlighted certain gaps in the forest sector’s existing approach. These included issues relating to global climate change and human rights’ agendas.

“Interviews with internal industry stakeholders were conducted to test the results of the desktop research and identify areas of performance, or where more work is needed.

“These interviews generally confirmed the results of the desktop research. However, there were some significant differences. For instance, internal industry stakeholders ranked issues such as job creation, water, local communities and productivity more highly than the desktop research showed,” Ms Mason said.

The interviews also found stakeholders tend to believe the industry is doing a reasonable job of managing compliance, but has more to do when it comes to industry coordination and emerging risks such as biosecurity.

Research into the sustainability approaches of other relevant sectors, both globally and nationally, found key features of any approach tended to include agreed principles or commitments, links to standards, stakeholder representation, third-party assurance, performance disclosure and support for product certification.

“Key recommendations made upon completion of this study include building the capacity of the sector around new and emerging issues to encourage a coordinated approach across the sector where possible.

“If there is sufficient interest, there is the possibility of an industry-wide sustainability framework like some other sectors have developed, and this could add value through improved transparency of the sustainability credentials of the sector,” Ms Mason added.