Former Greenpeace senior forest campaigner and prominent voice in the FSC community Judy Rodrigues recently joined NEPCon to work on forest conservation projects. In this interview, she ventures her thoughts on the future of FSC.
Judy Rodrigues has been part of the FSC community for over 12 years, advocating credibility and impact on the ground. At the latest FSC General Assembly, she was part of the Greenpeace team that successfully campaigned for FSC to protect Intact Forest Landscapes through certification and beyond.
This year, Ms Rodrigues decided to take up a new position with NEPCon where she will be able to continue her strong focus on forest conservation. We asked her to share how FSC should develop, from the vantage point of a forest conservationist.
Judy Rodrigues at the FSC General Assembly in 2014.
What do you see as the biggest strength of FSC?
“On top of being the world’s leading forest management scheme I would say the tripartite nature of FSC is one of the system’s core distinguishing factors,” says Ms Rodrigues, referring to FSC’s governance system of ensuring equal participation and decision making by the Economic, the Environmental and the Social Chamber.
“For me, FSC is all about collaboration between different interest groups, creating mutual understanding and challenging each other to seek robust and innovative solutions.”
As a Greenpeace spokesperson in the FSC system for more than a decade, Ms Rodrigues has experienced this first-hand.
She was part of the Environmental Chamber, advocating for FSC to ensure it was attaining positive impacts on the ground and to take a stronger role in nature conservation.
Voting session at the FSC General Assembly 2011.
Whilst her role was to convince the other chambers about these causes, she says her engagement in the FSC system has also widened her own perspective and brought valuable insights into the worlds of the Social and Economic Chambers.
“I have learned a lot from the Social Chamber. For example, insights from Martha Nuñez of the Social Chamber had a great impact on me. One of the points she made that still resounds with me was, ‘just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s just’. That statement made me realise in full that there are lots of legal injustices out there that we must not accept and FSC needs to act justly and facilitate momentum for reform.”
“My interactions with the Economic Chamber have increased my understanding of the complexities and challenges pertaining to the business side of FSC certification and that both push and pull factors are necessary to grow the level of FSC certified forests and products globally,” she says.
From your perspective, what are the top challenges for FSC at present?
“The system has grown tremendously, which brings a whole set of new challenges,” says Ms Rodrigues.
“FSC will be shouldering an increasing level of responsibility. It needs to keep up its leadership whilst ensuring its core business is credible. More than ever, FSC needs to prioritise robust on-the-ground performance by ensuring its world-leading criteria are consistently applied across the board.”
“At the same time, FSC needs to evolve to play a broader role on the global stage within issues linked to climate change and forest management - including conservation, restoration, and ecosystem services. It needs to command a leadership role with other actors such as governments, donors, other industries and stakeholders, to develop comprehensive approaches to natural resource management and conservation. Over the coming years, a key challenge for FSC will be to strike the right balance between these two roles.”
“Also, the FSC Controlled Wood system is a divisive factor in the FSC system. Some see it as a continuous improvement tool, which could be linked to FSC’s Modular Approach Programme. Others believe it is a permanent and indispensable feature of the FSC system. My concern is that controlled wood dilutes FSC’s brand value and that the connection between FSC certified forests and FSC MIX labelled products needs to be strengthened. I believe it’s time to raise the bar and require more inputs from FSC certified forests in these products.”
Another key area that will need addressing is the sheer growth of the organisation and its complex set of policies, standards and strategies, says Ms Rodrigues.
“Membership engagement is not working properly any more - there is way too much overload. FSC still needs to capture the guidance and input from its membership, it just needs to be done in a more efficient way. We need to come up with innovative but inclusive alternatives to membership engagement.”
Three great avenues for impact
Where do you see the biggest opportunities for FSC in terms of impact?
“I see three key areas where FSC needs to change its approach to capture the potential,” says Ms Rodrigues.
“First of all, FSC needs to wean itself off its timber addiction. FSC needs to advocate more widely and further support opportunities that reward the value of keeping forests standing. It is great that FSC now has an ecosystem services strategy and is discussing landscape approach solutions to better forest management. But these need to move from niche to main programmes of work for the FSC.”
“Secondly, if FSC wants to be a leader, it must embrace transparency. In today’s world, there is nowhere to hide and those who are smart will realise that and build their strategies accordingly. Instead of lagging behind, it’s better to embrace transparency and make it a competitive advantage.”
“For example, instead of resisting the FSC Online Claims Platform for tracking the chain-of-custody of FSC products, let’s make it work. Such technology can not only increase the robustness of FSC’s chain of custody system, it has other huge advantages like enabling FSC and its members to generate better market statistics, such as tracking the level of market share per product group,” she says.
Ms Rodrigues together with Marcelle Peuckert, FSC International's Business Development Director, at the FSC General Assembly 2014.
“Also, the data linked to FSC certified forest areas should be expanded, made more accessible and reported in technology efficient and consistent ways. This again could also help FSC qualify its impact on aspects such as forest resilience, social rights, and climate change, and allow stakeholders to access impact information beyond market numbers, e.g., maps of where HCV forests are being protected.”
“And last but not least, FSC needs to take a whole new approach to supporting community and indigenous forest stewards on board. Collectively, smallholder and indigenous communities manage and safeguard vast areas of land around the world. It is important to have the right tools to support them. FSC should tap into those opportunities much more.”
Judy Rodrigues’ Aha! Moments with FSC
1. “In 1996, I discovered an organisation called the Forest Stewardship Council. I instantly knew that I wanted to get involved.”
2. “In 2005, I joined my first FSC General Assembly. It absolutely blew me away! I also joined the FSC Chain of Custody Working Group that year. There was this strong feeling that if we work together for the common good, we can actually make a difference."
3. “At the FSC General Assembly in 2014, the members passed a crucial motion asking FSC to focus on its role in protecting Intact Forest Landscapes. That was a truly great moment.“