How to check whether wood, paper, and other forest products are environmentally friendly

    22 Sep 2021

    Environmentally friendly products do not harm the environment, even during production, use, and disposal. But can all forest products be called “environmentally friendly” only based on their origin from renewable sources? Is this characteristic sufficient?

    The answer is no, says Pavlo Kravets, director of Forest Stewardship Council Ukraine, in his article for Ruryka.

    Regenerability is not the main characteristic because, for example, the restoration of forest products from GMO plantations in place of natural forests cannot be considered environmentally friendly. That is why those that come from well-managed forests are genuinely environmentally friendly forest products. After all, proper forest management is carried out in such woods, ensuring constant and inexhaustible use of wood resources. They are appropriately protected and maintained, and valuable forest areas are subject to a will. Therefore, the area of ​​such forests does not decrease, even when trees are cut down. But there are forests that are not maintained, do not receive proper care, or are simply not legalized – so their condition is much worse.

    When we talk about “environmentally friendly” products, we do NOT mean those products that are obtained as a result of deforestation or the conversion of natural forests into plantations. At its core, eco-friendly products also exclude timber of illegal origin. Therefore, the use of such products, in addition to minimizing the impact on the environment, protection of protected areas, production of valuable properties of forests (oxygen production, carbon sequestration, air purification), increases the welfare of local communities and workers.

    But how to determine that the purchased product is environmentally friendly? Here’s the explanation.

    Use of certified goods

    An easy way to make sure the product is environmentally friendly is to check the labeling. Today, there is a wide range of product certification systems, each showing the product’s compliance with specific requirements. Yes, the requirements for cosmetics will be significantly different from the requirements for the same forest products.

    One of the organizations that develop standards for responsible forest management is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®). It is an international non-governmental, non-profit organization that is represented in 82 countries worldwide. The presence of such a mark on the product indicates that it is made from raw materials derived from responsibly managed forests.

    According to the FSC system, forestry is subject to periodic audits by an independent company, which verifies compliance with the environmental requirements of the standard at all stages of the production cycle. This means that all products originating from such forests acquire a certified status and can continue to be used to produce environmentally friendly goods.

    The internationally recognized certificate confirms compliance with national legislation and international requirements for harvesting and producing forest products. The certificate also certifies that the areas where the forest was harvested have been restored, and the unique ecological and cultural values have been preserved.

    How to determine that the purchased product is environmentally friendly?

    It is possible to distinguish an “environmentally friendly” product from another. To do this, carefully study the packaging of goods.

    Check the composition

    First of all, pay attention to the composition of products: this applies to food, cosmetics, and wood products, and wood pulp. Descriptions of all unfamiliar components can be found on the Internet. However, the natural composition does not always guarantee that the product is made environmentally friendly and that its production does not harm or minimize the negative impact on the environment.

    Check for an eco-label

    If you bought a certified product, it indicates the manufacturer’s integrity and the environmental friendliness of production. In particular, the FSC certificate means that the product is made from responsibly managed forests with the appropriate management level.

    Check the integrity of the eco-label

    Eco-label Guide is an application that recognizes eco-labels from photos. In it, you can check the authenticity of the certificate without leaving the store. For example, we select a product, point the camera at it and get brief information about the relevant eco-label.

    How to determine whether wood, paper, and other forest products are environmentally friendly

    Why is the a growing interest in environmentally friendly products?

    In the last 30 years alone, the area of ​​the world’s forests has decreased by 178 million hectares, which is almost three times the territory of Ukraine. Therefore, gaining popularity products that allow each of us in one way or another to influence the current environmental situation. We are talking about environmentally friendly goods that not only do not harm the environment but also provide forest growth and achieve a balance of social, economic, and environmental interests involved in production and consumption. By buying such a product, the consumer makes his tiny contribution (compared to the planet’s population) to nature conservation.

    One can argue endlessly about what has become the catalyst for increasing demand for organic products. However, the increase in popularity of such goods, one way or another, was due to their mass. Environmental friendliness is becoming a new trend, followed by both responsible businesses and consumers. While McDonald’s is testing paper straws, clothing retailers have embarked on sustainable supply programs: making clothing from environmentally friendly raw materials, using certified labels and paper bags. “Green” products let consumers know that the brand contributes to the environment, which also stimulates demand. When brands began to strive more to be “environmentally friendly,” the mass of such products changed consumer habits and attitudes. But a genuinely organic product does not harm the environment and health at all life cycle stages – from raw material extraction to disposal.

    Another factor in increasing interest is the circular economy. Many principles of the circular economy are already applied in the forest sector. Wood products used for construction help reduce the carbon footprint of the buildings themselves (carbon footprint refers to the total emissions of all greenhouse gases generated by an individual, organization, city, or country). For example, in the West, houses made of concrete and glass are gradually being abandoned, and they are beginning to be made of wood from renewable sources. Using renewable forest resources in limited quantities is a positive example of a continuous and constant source of various human benefits. Thus, in developed countries, up to 25% of all drugs are herbal drugs, and in developing countries, their share reaches 80%. Not to mention food, fuel, and building materials.

    Wood, cellulose, and its derivatives (e.g., lignin) are viable substitutes for non-renewable materials. In addition, the reuse of materials through the disposal of lumber and paper recycling is a common practice in this sector. Therefore, forests and their products play a crucial role in the circular economy, providing a renewable source of raw materials.

    Paradoxically, along with the growing public demand for a clean environment and the preservation of unique and valuable forests, there will be an increase in the use of forest resources in all sectors of the economy. Thus, the urgency of ensuring the environmental friendliness of forest products will only increase.

    Why buy environmentally friendly forest products?

    Spices, oil, medicine, wood, and all products made from forest resources make up about 1% of world GDP. But why buy environmentally friendly forest products?

    First, forests absorb harmful greenhouse gases that cause climate change. They provide us with clean water, reduce or slow down soil erosion, as well as the amount of chemicals that can get into the water; provide us with food and medicine. Consumption of environmentally friendly forest products ensures the regenerability of used forest resources.

    Second, forests are restored after logging. Other natural resources, such as metal ores, coal, oil, and natural gas, you cannot restore. We can reduce, reuse and recycle, but only wood can be renewed. Extraction and processing of wood products require much less energy, carbon, and water than other raw materials.

    Forests have always been an integral component of goods and values ​​for all living organisms on Earth. Therefore, it is evident that environmentally friendly products have become popular.

    We can all be agents of change in the world around us and influence systemic well-being – social, economic, and environmental. When we view environmental friendliness and integrity as the practice of creating the future, we are creating a country where everyone is aware of the value of forests.

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