Sustainability makes business sense

Two newly-released studies show that a corporate commitment to environmental sustainability not only fulfils an ethical responsibility, but also delivers tangible returns to the bottom line. The studies were conducted by WWF (the World Wide Fund for Nature) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which provides certification of sustainably and ethically produced forest products.

The findings come on the eve of the World Forestry Congress being hosted in Africa for the first time, and the FSC’s In Good Company workshop, both in Durban in the first two weeks of September.

Kim Carstensen, executive director of the FSC, says the organisation’s Global Market Survey has found that 90% of respondents reported that becoming FSC-certified added value to their business and their products, and increases the demand for the products. 80% felt that FSC labelling added value to their products.

Carstensen explains: “Respondents say the FSC helps them create a positive corporate image because of the rigour of the certification system. An important finding is the strong role that consumers play in driving sustainable business: 52,5% of new FSC certificate holders say that client demand is the main reason for them to become FSC certified.”

Obviously certification requires investment and robust oversight, but Carstensen says that investment delivers a return, as evidenced by a WWF study, which found that FSC certification earns enterprises more money for their wood sold. The study, conducted across seven countries, found that the benefits – financial and otherwise – outweighed the investments required to integrate the environmental and social practices stipulated by certification.

Enterprises earned an average of USD 1.80 extra on every cubic metre of FSC-certified wood, over and above the cost of achieving certification. That, says Carstensen, is clear evidence of the return on investment driven by conscientious consumers, served by equally conscientious business.

“Tropical forests are vital to the future of our planet, and to the communities who rely on them for their livelihoods need better market access. FSC certification helps provide that, and the price premiums reflect the high-end and niche markets they tend to supply.

Investing in sustainable tropical timber is essential to the future of our forests,” noted Carstensen.

He added that consumers increasingly expect business to act on climate change, for example, and are likely to be likely to make purchasing decisions on the basis of business’s commitment. “Thus we have two authoritative studies which point to sustainable business delivering competitive advantages for brand.”

Carstensen says: “The World Forestry Congress and the FSC’s In Good Company workshop are pivotal events for the sustainable use of Africa’s forests, which in turn are linked directly to biodiversity and livelihoods on the continent and ultimately, to life on Earth.”

The importance of forests can’t be overstated, he explains: they help mitigate climate change, ensure adequate supply of fresh water, enhance biodiversity as well as sustainable incomes, livelihoods and food security.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) currently certifies more than 180 million hectares across 80 countries.

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