Brent Felgner -- Casual Living, November 23, 2012
One of the grim realities of the World today is that forests everywhere are in decline. Natural forests, but especially those in tropical regions, are rapidly being converted to non-forest uses, primarily for agriculture and cattle production.
Twenty-five years ago, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, the world's oldest and largest environmental organization, realized that we were quickly losing the battle to preserve the world's forests to competing land uses. In fact, back in 1985, less than one-tenth of 1% of the world's forests had been designated with any type of protection status. A consensus emerged that a new strategy was needed that would give local people an incentive to add value to forests.
A key precept was that wherever local people benefit directly from forest values, these forests have a better chance of being protected. By 1993, the new strategy had resulted in the creation of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an organization of global scope that would promote sustainable forest management and certify products in the marketplace as having come from well-managed forests. The FSC membership pioneered a triad of environmental, social and economic principles and guidelines to define sustainable forest management.
Today, an estimated 10% of the world's remaining forests have been protected through FSC certification. The FSC has become the gold standard in forest certification, involving 410 million acres of forest in 80 countries, directly benefiting the lives of millions of people.
At the same time, the establishment of sustainable forestry enterprises in the tropics remains a difficult challenge. One of the greatest constraints is that tropical forests contain the world's highest diversity of species - in most cases hundreds of tree species. Key to the economic viability of FSC-certified forestry enterprises is the development of products and markets built upon the most abundant species found in that forest. The inability to create these markets is a key reason why many FSC forest operations have failed after only a few short years.
For the Roda Group of Bolivia, parent company of Jensen Leisure Furniture and Roda Flooring, the integrated market penetration that fully utilizes the species found in its forests has been the secret of its success. Jensen Leisure Furniture has been a proud member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council since 2008.
Roda Group foresters first went into the forest two decades ago and ignored the conventional wisdom about whether a particular wood was valuable or not. Once the specific menu of abundant woods became clear from their forest inventory data, Roda management began to study wood characteristics and develop products and a marketing strategy. In addition, the FSC certification of the entire Roda forest holdings provided an entry into lucrative U.S. and European markets that were previously unavailable to the Bolivia timber industry.
A key principle instilled by architect Cristobal Roda at the founding of his company in the early 1960s was to continually strive to develop products that created the greatest added value from their raw materials. Today, the Roda Group manages a group of companies that produce a range of high value wood products from dozens of wood species - from furniture and hardwood flooring to architectural veneer panels and particle board.
Together, these businesses employ thousands of people in Bolivia. Roda forest operations employ local indigenous people who live in communities neighboring the managed forest reserves. The direct benefits they receive from the forestry enterprise translate into security for the forest resource, which remains intact after 18 years of sustainable management.
The Roda furniture company, IMR, produces heirloom quality outdoor furniture in Bolivia marketed in the U.S. under the brand name Jensen Leisure Furniture. The furniture features 100% FSC-certified timber made entirely of heartwood, the most color-uniform, dimensionally- stable and durable part of a tree. Manufacturing furniture entirely of heartwood requires cutting trees that are well over a century old. FSC certification assures JLF customers that there will always be 100-year-old trees as the forest is managed to selectively harvest a small percentage of trees each year. In fact, the assurance of a consistent supply of high quality timber from their own forests has been one of JLF's greatest competitive advantages in the marketplace
Roda Flooring incorporates another eight of the forest's most abundant species in its high quality solid and engineered wood flooring products. CIMAL, another Roda company, manufactures sliced and rotary veneer, as well as particle board utilizing another dozen species found in its forest concessions. All these products contribute to the profitability of the company's bottom line, making a stable enterprise that supports the livelihood of thousands of people.
The Roda Group example is clearly an integrated industrial model, which may not be applicable in many tropical forest situations. What is applicable though is its guiding principle, which should hold true for any SFM forest enterprise of any scale.
Robert Simeone, a forester with 35 years of experience in sustainable management of natural forests, was a co-founder of the international Forest Stewardship Council.
Jensen Leisure’s Opal Collection is an example of the end result of the company’s sustainable manufacturing process.
A worker at Jensen Leisure’s Bolivia manufacturing plant measures a piece of wood in the sawmill.
Infrared aerial view of a Roda 185,000-acre forest concession with encroaching areas of agriculture (bright red areas) and cattle pastures (light violet and white areas) where forest has been clear cut. Green and dark purple are intact natural forest areas. Today, the forests of the Roda concessions remain entirely intact.