The Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) is an independent, non-profit, international, non-governmental organization that was created to ensure that the world’s forests meet the social, environmental and economic needs of the present generation without compromising those of future generations. For this reason, since 1993 FSC has created the best-known and most rigorous responsible forest management certification scheme in the world. What does responsible forest management mean? It means management that is environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically sustainable.

Forests provide a number of essential services including oxygen, clean water, biodiversity, and more: the benefits provided by forests (technically referred to as “forest ecosystem services”) are many and essential to human well-being. FSC has recently developed a new tool – the Ecosystem Services Procedure (FSC-PRO-30-006 V1-0) – that allows FSC-certified forest owners and managers to identify, measure, and third-party verify the positive impacts of responsible forest management on five categories of ecosystem services.

Capture and conservation of CO2 stored in forests

Biodiversity conservation

Soil conservation

Maintenance or improvement of water quality and watersheds

Conservation or improvement of recreational services

But what is the usefulness of this procedure? Why verify the positive impacts of responsible forest management?

Positive impacts, after being identified, measured and verified by a third-party auditor, can be translated into “verified impact statements“. These impact statements, in turn, can be used to promote responsibly managed forests and communicate the benefits of stewardship. The process also gives citizens, companies or other organizations the opportunity to invest in forests where the benefits have been verified in order to communicate their contribution to combating the climate crisis. The support given by companies and citizens is published on the FSC database, which then acts as a registry and ensures the transparency of the operation.

To understand how verifying positive impacts can be an opportunity for forest managers but also for companies and organizations outside the sector, it is necessary to first understand what happens outside the forests.

In recent years, as a result of global warming, extreme events have become more frequent and severe: for this reason, today, scientists no longer speak of “climate change” but of “climate crisis“.

The effects of the climate crisis are affecting the most remote and uncontaminated areas of the world – just think of the fires in the Arctic tundra or in the Amazonian forest – but not only: with phenomena such as the Vaia storm of October 2018 or the “acqua granda” of Venice in November 2019, the climate crisis has come to knock directly at our door.

Faced with the effects of the climate crisis, which have become increasingly concrete and tangible, many entrepreneurs have realized that it is now time for everyone to do their part to combat this emergency and at the same time public opinion has begun to demand a change of course. This, together with the public declaration of the European Commission to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent, has pushed many companies and organizations to set themselves the goal of climate neutrality.

Some companies have gone even further, not content to become climate-neutral, but aspiring to become climate-positive (i.e., companies that capture and store more CO2 than they emit). But how do companies become climate-neutral or climate-positive? They do it by taking steps to measure their impacts, reduce them and ultimately support projects that take advantage of the capacity of natural ecosystems (such as forests) to capture and store the CO2 that they physically cannot avoid emitting in the course of their activities.
That’s where forests and the FSC Ecosystem Services Procedure come in. The FSC Ecosystem Services Procedure is a valuable tool for companies that want to contribute to the fight against the climate crisis. With the necessary support and financing, forest managers will generate positive impacts on biodiversity, soil, water, carbon sequestration, and recreational services.

Are you a forest owner or manager
and need support to create or improve your natural area?

Some companies combine climate objectives with other objectives aimed at improving nature or the welfare of society: here it is important to verify not only the positive impacts in terms of capture and conservation of CO2, but also the positive impacts on the conservation of biodiversity, soil and water resources, as well as on the tourist-recreational use of natural areas. In fact, the FSC Procedure on Ecosystem Services is the tool that will allow you to enhance the value of good forest management, helping you to give a value to those activities for which, until now, you struggled to find an economic recognition.

In summary, the steps to follow to benefit from the use of this tool are as follows:

  1. Manage forests responsibly by complying with the standard and obtaining FSC certification
  2. Complete a verification of the positive impacts of responsible forest management on ecosystem services (using the FSC Ecosystem Services Procedure)
  3. Seeking sponsors to support stewardship activities

In the search for sponsors, there are intermediaries and/or tools that can simplify the message and facilitate dialogue and encounters between the different needs of forest managers and potential sponsors (public or private organizations), “creating a bridge” between subjects that often speak “different languages”. In other words, these intermediaries can – thanks to their skills, competences and tools – facilitate the connection between potential sponsors and forest managers.

The FSC Ecosystem Services Procedure – a tool available only to organizations with a valid FSC forest management certificate – was created with a threefold objective:

  • Define requirements for managers of FSC-certified forests to credibly demonstrate the impacts of their activities in maintaining, conserving, restoring, or enhancing ecosystem services;
  • Provide FSC-certified forest managers with better access to emerging ecosystem services markets through the use of promotional FSC ecosystem services claims based on verified impacts;
  • Improve access to funding for verified ecosystem service restoration/improvement impacts.

After outlining a whole series of requirements that must be met in order to apply this tool, the procedure describes the steps that the forest manager must follow in order to demonstrate the impacts of management activities on ecosystem services as a pathway consisting of 7 steps:

At the heart of the impact demonstration, lies the so-called theory of change (defined by the procedure itself as the “detailed description and illustration of how and why a particular change must occur in a particular context”). This is a crucial point because it is this theory of change that identifies and makes explicit the cause-and-effect relationship that exists between management activities and positive impacts on ecosystem services. In other words: if management activities had not been implemented, the impact in terms of conservation or improvement of ecosystem service would not have been achieved.

In order to understand whether the management activities carried out have actually produced the desired impact, the manager is now required to select one or more outcome indicators (an outcome indicator is defined by the Procedure as a “field assessment of ecological or social conditions”) consistent with the results of the theory of change developed.

To measure outcome indicator values, the manager must select an applicable methodology from the appropriate Guidebook (FSC-GUI-30-006) or may propose a methodology that meets the eligibility criteria, i.e., a methodology:

  • Suitable for the local context and the outcome indicator to be measured;
  • Scientifically Credible and based on the best available information;
  • Objective and replicable.

This ensures the soundness of the demonstration. For example, in the case of carbon sequestration and storage (which coincides with CO2 capture and storage) one of the suggested methodologies is the IPCC methodology (“2006 IPCC guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories”, the methodology par excellence for measuring and quantifying carbon sequestration and storage).

Finally, the Procedure outlines how forest managers and their clients, stakeholders, and sponsors can use FSC-verified ecosystem services impact statements.  all sponsorship on FSC ecosystem services must be reported to the certification body, which will then publish an updated summary on the public FSC database, thus ensuring transparency of the operation.

Images from “Ecosystem Services Procedure: demonstration of impacts and market instruments (FSC-PRO-30-006 V1-0 EN)”

An example of tools able to facilitate this contact is the WOWnature® platform, managed by Etifor, which, thanks to the involvement of companies and citizens has already allowed the creation of many new urban green areas as well as the recovery of several forests damaged by the storm Vaia, also attracting considerable media attention that inevitably benefits both companies and area managers.

It is important to emphasize that this system mitigates risks associated with rights of use or ownership: the sponsor does not become the owner or manager of the forest, nor can he or she make demands for use or ownership of what the forest produces. Instead, the sponsor simply bears part of the costs incurred in carrying out the management activities that contribute to the generation of positive impacts. ETIFOR can help you to identify, measure and verify the positive impacts of your activities and – thanks to the use of the WOWnature platform – to find people and companies that want to contribute to the implementation of specific activities in the field aimed at improving your forests.

Are you an organization that wants to support
the creation and improvement of forests?

If you have decided that it is time for everyone to do their part, and you are ready to align yourself or even anticipate the objectives of the European Commission – making Europe the first climate-neutral continent – then you have found a tool that suits your needs. The FSC Ecosystem Services Procedure, can be part of a path to combat the climate crisis (learn more about our MARC approach) and can help you achieve your goals. How?

By supporting those who take care of the forests in the best possible way, namely forest owners and managers who comply with FSC responsible management standards. These managers are constantly engaged in activities – creating or improving forests –  have generate positive impacts on the forests and the benefits they generate including CO2 capture and biodiversity conservation. The positive impacts of the activities carried out thanks to your support are then measured according to the terms dictated by the FSC Procedure on Ecosystem Services and subsequently verified with third party control before they can be used to achieve your corporate objectives of environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Activities for the creation or improvement of forests

The activities that forest managers can carry out with the support of sponsoring organizations depend on the context and specific needs of the forest being addressed, but in general can include activities such as:

  • Planning and monitoring of forest resources
  • Planting and maintenance of new trees
  • Improvement and protection of existing forests, through actions such as:
    • Structural and compositional improvements to forests (through thinning,  girdling, set-asides, etc.) to increase their ability to resist high intensity weather events (wind, etc.)
    • Elimination of alien and invasive species that slow down and stifle the growth of native species
    • Diversification of species to increase biodiversity and resilience of stands
    • Opening of trails and firebreaks
    • After very damaging events (e.g.: storm Vaia): removal of crashed trees to prevent the spread of harmful insects (in particular: typographical bark beetle) that proliferate in abandoned timber on the ground and attack surrounding healthy forests
  • Creation and improvement of forest roads needed to care for the forests
  • Stakeholder involvement
  • Creation of paths to channel users in order to avoid degradation phenomena (excessive trampling near peat bogs, etc.).