The TH Interview: Ned Daly of the Forest Stewardship Council in the US

Regular readers will need no introduction to the work of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). From Staples' stock of FSC-certified paper to Ethletic's FSC rubber sneakers and even a green FSC-certified bible, the Council's standards for sustainable forest management are fast becoming recognized not just in construction and furniture, but a broad range of forest-based industries. While we were at the Wal-Mart Live Better Sustainability Summit last week, we took the opportunity to talk briefly with Ned Daly, Chief Operating Officer for the FSC in the US, about what brought his organization to the event, and what is driving the current high-level of interest in sustainability.

TreeHugger: What brings FSC to the summit?

Ned Daly: The FSC market has been growing both on the paper side, and the building products side, as well as other products such as furniture and flooring. Drivers like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Staples and other major companies like that have really started to put some pressure on their supply chain. This was a great opportunity for us to talk to some of the suppliers who have already been hearing a lot from Wal-Mart about sustainability certification. We were able to do a lot of education — I don't think we sold any product, but we were able to get a lot of people a lot more comfortable with the FSC process, and that's a huge issue for us, dealing with the comfort level. It's not as scary as it looks, so a lot of what we do is dealing with those issues.

TH: Where is the motivation coming from, both for Wal-Mart and their suppliers, in terms of moving towards sustainability?

ND: I think there are two main motivations, or maybe three. I think a lot of companies just want to do the right thing, they simply see the value of that internally. I think they also see the value of public perception, branding their product and being seen to do the right thing and to show themselves as a trust worthy company. The other one, which is probably as important as the other two, is the reduced liability in the supply chain. With FSC, they have a guarantee that the wood they are buying in Indonesia, or the Congo, or whatever is not endangered, it's not coming from conservation areas, it's not illegally poached from indigenous communities — that's a lot of work that they don't have to do, that's a lot of law suits they can avoid, and it's a lot of things that are not going to piss off Greenpeace, WWF and others. I think everybody likes doing the right thing and they like communicating with their stakeholders, but the ability to remove the liability on these issues is just as important right now.

TH: What would you say is needed to shift sustainability to the next level? What's the next big leap towards a greener society?
ND: It seems like everybody understands how to talk about sustainability, so perhaps we've changed the paradigm, but we haven't yet changed our practices. I think that's really the next step — we're doing OK on vision, we're doing OK on understanding what sustainability is and what our goals are, but now we have to put it into practice. There are a number of issues where people are walking the walk, but not necessarily talking the talk. You see an awful lot of talk about carbon and climate change right now, but I don't think anybody really knows what their true impact is, whether they've done an environmental impact study, or a carbon audit or whatever. So it's getting away from this mentality of "We're going to say 'sustainability' four times in this press release.", to actually implementing sustainability on the ground. ::FSC::via Wal-Mart Live Better Sustainability Summit::

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