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Brand Management Redux: Forest Stewardship Council

Posted 9 November 2007 by Jacob Malthouse to Opinion.

Earlier this week we wrote about USDA Organic nuking their brand in the NY Times. The Wall Street Journal article on FSC Mixed Sources including wood from Asia Pulp and Paper’s Indonesia moonscape is another example of brand dilution in response to market demand.

While FSC has since acted to strengthen its standards, the article notes competition in the labelling space coupled with demand may create a race to the bottom. Great. Added pain in the butt for people who have better things to do than eyeball logos when they’re buying new flooring. People are already paying a premium for a lot of this stuff. The least we can do is clearly answer the question “is this product better for the environment?”

So far we’ve seen labels damaging their own brands in response to their success. What we haven’t seen is a concerted global effort to establish baselines in this space. When demand rises because consumers are seeking an assurance of environmental quality the worst thing you can do is damage the credibility of that assurance.

Ben Cashore’s response to this article is right. A mixed sources label is a critical bridge to meet market demand. What they neglected to do is establish firm “no go” rules for certifiers. In other words: don’t ever certify a company who turns orangutan habitat into something that makes Canada’s tar sands look lush. Here’s a quick brainstorm of options to deal with increasing demand:

1. Establish clear baselines that prevent abuse of the label if it is going to be separated out into grades.

2. Launch a global campaign: “green timber market booming”. Interview companies who aren’t providing green forest products asking them why they don’t care to meet market demand, send letters to their shareholders about it.

3. Partner with venture capital firms to develop a eco-timber fund to enable companies to go green.

4. Partner with governments and government financial mechanisms to develop new supply chains in developing countries.

FSC has done a tremendous job developing market-based solutions for environmental problems. The WSJ article is a wake up call to all ecolabels, most of which aren’t as rigorous. Your label is your brand and your brand is your reputation. You’ll take it on the chin just as hard as Shell, The Gap, or Nike did if you get careless.

Take stock of the orangutans in your closet before the whole concept of ecolabelling suffers.