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05 / 10 / 2021
Trust, but verify. Why brands need to care about certification in an age of enhanced consumer transparency (Part 1)
05 / 10 / 2021
Trust, but verify. Why brands need to care about certification in an age of enhanced consumer transparency (Part 1)

Certification plays a massive role for brands and consumers who are enhancing their sustainability measures. Consumers are becoming increasingly selective with textiles they buy and by extension brands they choose to associate themselves with. In light of the UN’s announcement on the severity of climate change, it’s vital for players in the fashion industry to ensure that the sustainability they are promoting is authentic and verified!

True to this, Peter Bartsch, Vice President of Corporate Sustainability at Lenzing sat down with Ben Gunneberg, CEO and Secretary General of PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification), a leading global alliance of national forest certification systems, to talk about what PEFC does and why certification standards like theirs are a necessity for brands and manufacturers to follow. In this Part 1 of our Q&A, Peter asks Ben to share his insights around the PEFC organization, ongoing partnership with Lenzing and retailer involvement in certification.

Peter: Please could you tell us about PEFC, yourself and what it means to be “PEFC certified”?

Ben: PEFC was created by small, family forest owners in 1999, and we have now grown to become one of the world’s largest forest certification systems. We provide forest owners, from the large to the small, with a tool to demonstrate their responsible practices, while empowering companies to buy sustainably. Today, close to 75% of certified forest area globally is certified to PEFC standards.

I am a forester by education and training and have spent most of my working life in forestry. It has been an amazing journey., I started my career as a forestry worker and am now the CEO of PEFC.

PEFC certification gives fashion brands and retailers assurance that they are using man-made cellulosic fibers that have been sourced responsibly from thriving forests. They are managed sustainably and are playing their part in tackling climate change and supporting biodiversity. It provides credible evidence that companies are not contributing to deforestation or illegal logging, nor intensifying the accompanying social and environmental problems.

Peter: Why is forest certification so important for brands?

Ben: Today, only half of the global wood fibers used for man-made cellulosics is sourced from certified sustainably managed forests and traced with chain of custody by fiber manufacturers. This means half of the MMCF (man-made cellulosic fibers) raw material on the market come from unknown sources. This is an industry-wide problem, as there is a high risk that these unknown and unverified forest sources are linked to forest-damaging activities – illegal logging, and unsustainable harvesting leading to forest degradation and biodiversity loss.

Furthermore, it can also put forest workers at risk – especially in counties with weaker legality systems, where it is not required by law to wear protective equipment or follow safety procedures. Forest workers can also be exposed to unfair labour conditions.

PEFC certification enables brands to demonstrate that the MMCF they use does not contribute to these negative activities, but in fact helps to protect workers, support biodiversity and combat climate change.

Peter: How does PEFC work with industry partners like Lenzing to promote sustainable forest management?

Ben: At PEFC, we care for forests globally and locally. And we collaborate closely with diverse partners like Lenzing to protect our forests by promoting sustainable forest management through certification. Together with Lenzing, we strive to build awareness about sustainable forest management and its full contribution to the people and our planet across the industry.

We collaborate with different environmental and social organizations, as well as industry partners, to advance common sustainability goals. For our collaboration with industry partners, it is about guiding them to increase their responsible sourcing from forests that are managed sustainably and helping them to champion the benefits created by sustainable forest management.

Peter: As more companies drive for greater sustainability, what are some industry trends PEFC have observed?

Ben: Nowadays, the fashion industry is actively seeking to understand more about forests and what contributions they can do to better protect our planet. They are becoming aware of their brand’s environmental footprint, participating in various eco-friendly initiatives and events, moving from setting sustainability targets to actions, including the implementation of responsible sourcing policies.

While the initial focus was on organic cotton, this has now expanded to other raw materials, and brands are looking to increase the share of responsibly sourced viscose, lyocell and modal in their collections. In terms of sustainability targets, we see brands are setting goals related to net-zero deforestation, biodiversity protection, net-zero carbon, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Forest certification is a key part of the solution to reach these eco-friendly goals. Brands understand this too, as we register an increase in the uptake for certification and label use.

Peter: How can brands and retailers get directly involved in sustainable forest management?

Ben: Brands and retailers have a crucial role to play in driving the sustainability development of the industry forward – they are the ultimate decision-makers for sourcing and directly influence the whole supply chain. They can get involved through establishing responsible procurement policies for wood-based products - fibers, textile, packaging, marketing materials, store fixtures - and specifying that they will only source from sustainably managed certified forests.

In the same vein, brands and retailers can work directly with their suppliers and actively engage with, and support them, in becoming certified. This can enable them to help other industry partners to achieve responsible procurement policies. Furthermore, brands and retailers can also promote their use of certified material through simple actions such as putting the PEFC label on certified products.

Peter: Thanks so much for telling us about the importance of certification in an age of enhanced transparency. Looking forward to continuing our conversation on how this certification is extended to manufacturers and brands and the announcements on EUSUPD.

Stay tuned for the second part of this story, where Peter continues his interview with Ben!

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