To­ward zero de­for­esta­tion – what you can do too

The global rate of de­for­esta­tion has for­tu­nately halved over the past 25 years. De­spite this en­cour­ag­ing trend, con­sumers need to take a proac­tive stand to help curb fur­ther losses.

Living Now - - Contents - by Martin Oliver

The global rate of de­for­esta­tion has for­tu­nately halved over the past 25 years. De­spite this en­cour­ag­ing trend, con­sumers need to take a proac­tive stand to help curb fur­ther losses.


In May 2016, Nor­way be­came the first coun­try to adopt a zero de­for­esta­tion pol­icy by en­sur­ing that its pub­lic pro­cure­ment poli­cies do not con­trib­ute to de­for­esta­tion. This move fol­lows years of lob­by­ing by a group known as the Rain­for­est Foun­da­tion Nor­way.

Lush and highly bio­di­verse, the planet’s trop­i­cal rain­forests are threat­ened in many ar­eas of the world by hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties. In­creas­ingly, rain­for­est loss is linked to large in­dus­trial-scale op­er­a­tions rather than sub­sis­tence-shift­ing cul­ti­va­tion prac­tices. Rain­for­est loss con­trib­utes to cli­mate change via re­leases of the green­house gases CO2 and meth­ane. De­for­esta­tion-free sup­ply chains have been es­tab­lished for a range of com­modi­ties, and some third-party en­vi­ron­men­tal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tems are in place, but as ever, it is im­por­tant for eth­i­cal con­sumers to vig­i­lantly look out for com­pa­nies pro­vid­ing mis­lead­ing in­for­ma­tion about their en­vi­ron­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity, or ‘green­wash’.


Forestry Ste­ward­ship Coun­cil (FSC) cer­ti­fi­ca­tion ap­plies to tim­ber, wood prod­ucts and pa­per. De­spite be­ing the most cred­i­ble scheme in the mar­ket­place, FSC rules for trop­i­cal re­gions do al­low some log­ging of old-growth rain­forests, and this has un­der­stand­ably at­tracted some crit­i­cism. Fig­ures such as pri­ma­tol­o­gist Jane Goodall have called for con­sumers to avoid all wood sourced from trop­i­cal forests. Sev­eral, gen­er­ally small, en­vi­ron­ment groups have with­drawn their sup­port from the FSC in re­cent years.

Green­peace has dis­missed other less strin­gent tim­ber stan­dards such as the PEFC as be­ing in­dus­try-led, and for in­cor­po­rat­ing a mix­ture of re­spon­si­ble and un­sus­tain­able prac­tices.

Prob­a­bly the best tim­ber choice is to pur­chase a Fsc-cer­ti­fied prod­uct from Aus­tralia. Li­cense codes can be checked by en­ter­ing them into the FSC cer­tifi­cate data­base at

For pa­per, the ideal so­lu­tion is to buy 100 per­cent re­cy­cled; with as high a post-con­sumer re­cy­cled con­tent as

pos­si­ble where this is stated. Af­ter re­cy­cled pa­per, sec­ond-best is to look for FSC cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

The Amer­i­can NGO Rain­for­est Al­liance has its own cer­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem, fea­tur­ing a green frog sym­bol, for a wide range of food and non-food prod­ucts. This cov­ers a range of is­sues in­clud­ing de­for­esta­tion, other en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sid­er­a­tions, and ben­e­fits to work­ers. Down­sides in­clude the Fsc-linked tim­ber cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, per­mis­sion to use the logo where only thirty per cent of an in­gre­di­ent is cer­ti­fied, and the pos­si­bil­ity that cer­ti­fi­ca­tion ap­plies to just one in­gre­di­ent rather than to the whole prod­uct.


Palm oil is widely found in food and per­sonal care prod­ucts. The enor­mous growth in this in­dus­try over such a small space of time has re­sulted the de­for­esta­tion of pre­vi­ously un­touched rain­for­est to make way for new palm oil plan­ta­tions.

Cur­rently, palm oil is not re­quired to be la­belled as such in Aus­tralia. The 2011 La­belling Logic: Re­view of Food La­belling Law and Pol­icy re­port rec­om­mended that ad­di­tional sug­ars and veg­etable oils in food be la­belled in­di­vid­u­ally. How­ever, fol­low­ing a meet­ing of Aus­tralian and New Zealand min­is­ters in Novem­ber 2016, the rec­om­men­da­tion has still not yet been im­ple­mented, and is pend­ing ‘ fur­ther work to con­sider the po­ten­tial im­pacts’. Un­til then, a pre­cau­tion­ary ap­proach would as­sume that it may be found in all generic ‘veg­etable oil’.

One av­enue adopted by some con­sumers is to avoid palm oil and its de­riv­a­tives such as those found in soap. An­other is to de­mand cer­ti­fied sus­tain­able palm oil (CSPO), pro­duced un­der a sys­tem that pre­cludes pro­duc­tion on re­cently cleared high con­ser­va­tion value for­est land, but which does al­low for the loss of re­growth forests.

The CSPO logo has a green palm leaf with writ­ing around the out­side and ‘RSPO’ at the bot­tom. Prod­ucts may con­tain the logo, and if not, it is worth ask­ing the com­pa­nies in­volved whether their palm oil is cer­ti­fied. A less cred­i­ble op­tion is the Green­palm off­set-based sys­tem that is used by some com­pa­nies claim­ing sus­tain­abil­ity for their palm oil.


For soya, which is used for can­dle wax and biodiesel in ad­di­tion to a wide range of food prod­ucts, there is a small amount of good news. In 2006, Brazil be­gan a mora­to­rium on the cul­ti­va­tion of soya beans on re­cently de­for­ested land, and this marked its tenth an­niver­sary this year. For neigh­bour­ing Paraguay, Ar­gentina, and Bo­livia, soya-driven de­for­esta­tion re­mains a se­ri­ous prob­lem.

In terms of moves to­wards sus­tain­able cul­ti­va­tion, the Round Ta­ble on Re­spon­si­ble Soy has set up its own cer­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem, but at present cer­ti­fied soya ap­pears to be hard to track down with con­fi­dence. When look­ing at how to cut down on un­sus­tain­able soya in­take, it is im­por­tant to re­alise that about 70-90 per cent of global pro­duc­tion goes to feed an­i­mals and fish. Some of Aus­tralia’s soya an­i­mal feed is do­mes­ti­cally grown, but much is im­ported. Aus­tralian-grown soya in­gre­di­ents are Gm-free, and avoid the likely use of GM in their im­ported coun­ter­part.


The global rate of de­for­esta­tion, most of which has been tak­ing place in the trop­ics, has for­tu­nately halved over the past 25 years. De­spite this en­cour­ag­ing trend, con­sumers need to take a proac­tive stand to help curb fur­ther losses. n


Forestry Ste­ward­ship Coun­cil Aus­tralia Rain­for­est Al­liance cer­ti­fi­ca­tion www.rain­fore­stal­­ness/ cer­ti­fi­ca­tion-ver­i­fi­ca­tion Cer­ti­fied sus­tain­able palm oil www.un­maskpal­­ex­plained RTRS cer­ti­fied soya­spon­si­ble­­ti­fi­ca­tion/ nues­tra-cer­ti­fi­ca­cion

Martin Oliver is a writer and re­searcher based in Lis­more.

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