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The Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood program celebrates 20 years

Oct 26, 2010 12:00 AM

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The Rainforest Alliance -- a nonprofit leader in sustainable forestry, agriculture and tourism certification and verification — is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its first foray into sustainability certification. In October 1990, under the leadership of then Rainforest Alliance director Daniel Katz and Smartwood director Ivan Ussach, the SmartWood program issued its first-ever certificate for responsible forest management on a teak plantation located on the Indonesian island of Java.

Today, led by vice president of forestry Richard Z. Donovan, SmartWood director Jon Jickling and business operations manager Ron Wald, the Rainforest Alliance has certified 376 forestry operations covering more than 157 million acres (634 million hectares) and issued more than 3,000 chain-of-custody certificates in 70 countries.

The Rainforest Alliance pioneered independent, global forest management certification, an approach that allows consumers and businesses to support sustainable forestry by purchasing products that come from well-managed, certified forest operations. The Rainforest Alliance was also the first organization to link forest certification with “chain-of-custody” certification –  the process of tracking a product from a responsibly managed forest to the consumer (including all successive stages of processing, transformation, manufacturing and distribution) -- creating a clear and credible connection between forests and forest products.

“When I first joined the Rainforest Alliance in 1992, critics said we were crazy to try to certify forests around the globe,” reflects Donovan. “Convincing companies that they needed to track their products back to the forest was, without a doubt, one of the greatest hurdles we faced.”  Today, knowing the origin of forest products continues to be a challenge, but the fundamental concept of tracing supply back to the forest or farm is a key component of virtually every credible certification initiative, according to the group.

Dr. Timothy Synnott, the first director of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), remarks, “The establishment of the SmartWood program by the Rainforest Alliance was a historic event, which increased the energy going into the embryonic idea of creating a Forest Stewardship Council.” The Rainforest Alliance played a major role in helping to establish the FSC and served as a founding member and participant at its 1993 Founding Assembly in Toronto.

“Much of our ground-breaking work certifying farms and forests around the world is built on the experience we gathered through the development of the SmartWood program,” observes Rainforest Alliance president Tensie Whelan.