The wood products sector operates under more intense public scrutiny than other extraction-based industries because wood comes from forests and forests are commonly seen by the public as natural places that should be relatively untouched by humans. Forest certification and eco-labelling are two important concepts to ensure that wood is sourced from sustainably managed forests. But CSR can go further.
Of the 100 largest forest products companies in the world, 61 are reported to have produced sustainability reports, and the proportion is increasing. However, most of the social (health and safety) and environmental (air emissions) indicators that these companies use in their sustainability reports are already part of legislative requirements. As such, these reports do not show the companies to be making any extralegal commitments to help society and the environment.
In addition, most of the companies that publish sustainability reports are headquartered in developed countries. In developing countries, much attention has focused on the social and environmental aspects of forestry practices, but less information is readily available regarding the social and environmental performance of forest products manufacturers.
Additionally, there is more literature pertaining to CSR practices of large companies than of small ones. In India, for example, some large paper companies, such as Ballarpur Industries and Star Papers, place emphasis on their social responsibility, yet the state of CSR is largely unexamined in the thousands of small sawmilling facilities.
Because of the costs, larger companies may engage in CSR practices more often than smaller ones, which may for example give less attention to applying safety measures and complying with existing environmental regulations.
It may be argued that different societies will take different routes to achieving sustainability. In the same vein, CSR programmes and standards should be defined locally. Well-intended programmes may be perceived as company rhetoric if the local context is not given adequate consideration.
Future of CSR in forestry
Societies interact with nature in different ways, and commercialization of forest resources has already had a tremendous impact on the way many forest-based communities interact with nature. Thus it is important that CSR practices be based on input from local stakeholders rather than importing regulations from outside.
Experts in forestry, business, sociology and anthropology can help develop CSR programmes suited for local contexts. This is especially important for nature-based sectors such as forestry and forest products since they are pivotal to livelihoods in many societies. CSR standards must avoid a “one size fits all” approach.
CSR, in combination with sustainable forest management, has potential to enable companies to foster a better state of the world’s forests and societies.