Header Image By: Yusuf Madi
We are pleased to share a member story about SAC Member, PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification), a global alliance of national forest certification systems. As an NGO, PEFC works with the SAC to build synergies between the tools and programs that both organizations have, enabling other SAC members to make progress on the sustainability journey. PEFC is also in discussion with our Higg Index team to contribute data from their stakeholders in order to improve the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) tool. Read on to learn about PEFC’s mission, and their journey with the SAC:
Tell us about your organization. What is your mission?
PEFC is an international non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management worldwide. We were created by small- and family forest owners in 1999, and today PEFC has grown to become the world’s largest forest certification system. Our forest management standards provide assurance that forests are managed in line with strict international requirements, allowing trees to regrow and helping to maintain biodiversity and the balance of the ecosystem.
Sourcing products with the PEFC certified claim gives fashion brands and retailers assurance that they are using wood-based fibers that have been sourced sustainably from thriving forests with maintained biodiversity and protected ecologically important areas.
It also provides evidence that companies are not contributing to deforestation or illegal logging, nor intensifying the accompanying social and environmental problems. Our mission is to safeguard our forests and to unlock and build on their full contribution for a sustainable world.
What motivated you to join the SAC, and why is this membership important to you and your organization?
SAC membership is an inspiring community, where we can collaborate with fashion stakeholders and champion sustainable change together. There is an incredible number of experts from different backgrounds and geographies, and I appreciate the rich exchange we can have through SAC advisory groups and meetings.
What focus areas are you prioritizing on improving this year? How have the SAC’s tools, programs and member community helped you identify these?
We are developing an educational resource to bridge the current knowledge gap in the fashion sector on responsible sourcing from forests, as well as to provide practical steps to minimize risks. We identified the need for such an education piece based on the discussions we had with the membership community and the Member Expert Teams. We are also in discussion with the SAC’s Higg Index team on how we can support the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) with the data we have from our stakeholders.
How have the SAC’s tools, programs, and membership community helped you reach your goals?
As an NGO, the scope of our collaboration with the SAC is different to how, for example, brands and manufacturers would work with the Higg Index tools. We focus on how we can build synergies between the tools and programs that the SAC and PEFC have, to enable SAC members to advance on sustainability. For example, we collaborated on an education webinar, with Joël Mertens, Director of Higg Product Tools, who joined our sustainability panel to discuss how MMCF (man-made cellulosic fibers) materials have the potential to help fashion brands to mitigate their carbon footprint.
Your work revolves around certifications. How do you feel certification can improve to be more effective and inclusive?
“Leave no one behind” is the central, transformative promise of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Making certification accessible for smallholders and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) is crucial. PEFC was created with smallholders in mind — we developed group forest certification, a mechanism that allows a group of like-minded forest owners to come together and manage forests collectively, share the costs, and build networks where important knowledge exchange can take place. So first, certification should look into the group programs. Another barrier for inclusivity is access to information and limited capacities.
I feel that to make certification move inclusive, it is important to invest into the programs that raise awareness, drive education, and help to build capacity on sustainable practices, especially among the smaller players or foresters and farmers with limited resources. Leaving no one behind is a must if we want to drive meaningful change.
What is one key learning or advice you would impart to organizations seeking to receive certifications such as the kind you offer? For those at the beginning of their sustainability journey, where do you recommend they start?
If you are a brand owner, the starting point is to create a procurement policy or guidance for your suppliers that includes forest certification for MMCF or packaging as a requirement. Following good practice, compliment it with the clear goal for 100% sourcing from sustainably managed forests, together with a timeline on when you would plan to achieve it.
I also suggest you take your suppliers with you on the journey, making them aware of your goal and educating them on why it is important and how to achieve it. You might be surprised to find that some of your current suppliers will be able to supply you with certified materials or can do so in a relatively short time frame. At PEFC, we are here to support brands for the education around certification and its processes.
If you are a manufacturer, start with a conversation with your suppliers, discuss their status on certified sourcing, and if they can provide you with certified materials. There is already good progress, nearly 60% of the man-made cellulosic fiber manufacturers are certified. Then reach out to your PEFC local office to help you with understanding the requirements. With certification you can make verifiable claims on the origin of your viscose or lyocell — to meet the increasing demand from customers, as well as to give visibility to your sustainability efforts.
To summarize, dialogue between suppliers and buyers is key, and PEFC is there to support stakeholders in this journey.
Here at the SAC, we celebrate the successes along with challenges and failures. We believe failure is a sign of courage and leads to lessons and innovation! Can you share an example of something you have ‘failed at’ or had challenges with along your sustainability journey, and what you learned from it?
One of the challenges has been that communicating about sustainable forest management and its standards and practices, is quite complex and technical. We learned that it was helpful to bring on board expertise from within the fashion industry, at a peer level, to message and educate on the importance and benefits of sustainable forest management and certification to source wood-based materials sustainably. This has been important to be able to relate to the challenges the industry faces and also to support with the tools and solutions available through PEFC certification.
Our whitepaper on “How sustainable forest management can help the fashion industry reduce its carbon footprint”’ is a good example of how we learned to take a complex topic and make it accessible to different levels of knowledge and expertise.