An independent observer of the Forest Stewartship Council

Zurich fails to specify FSC - does this mean Raubbau?Tags: Switzerland, Hungary, WWF, Procurement policies

Last week, an interesting article appeared in the Swiss newspaper, the Tagesanzeiger. FC Zurich has just opened a new stadium, called the Letzigrund. The city promised an ecological stadium, but the wood used is not FSC certified. WWF claims that without an FSC certificate, there is no guarantee that the wood doesn't come from destructive operations ("Raubbau" in German).

The wood used is Robinia pseudoacacia from Hungary. Gerriet Harms, the owner of the firm that supplied the wood, denies that the wood comes from Raubbau and argues that it's better to use "controlled" hardwood from Central Europe than to use FSC-certified tropical hardwood.

I agree with Harms that it's better to use wood that is grown reasonably locally in environmentally and socially responsibe operations than it is to import wood from the other side of the planet. And I agree with Harms that an FSC certificate is not necessarily a guarantee that there are not serious problems associated with the production of the wood. This will remain so until FSC addresses the structural problems within the system, which fsc-watch.org (and others) have repeatedly raised. But Harms has to prove that his timber comes from sustainably managed operations. As the owner of a timber company he's likely to say that his operations are sustainable. Most logging companies do claim to be operating sustainably - even Rimbunan Hijau, to give an (extreme) example.

Below are the English translations of the Tagesanzeiger article and Gerriet Harms' press release in response. The German version of the article is here and Harms' press release is here.

Stadium roof: Evidence that the wood is sustainable is missing

Tagesanzeiger, 28. August 2007

By Stefan Häne

The new Letzigrund is a model eco-stadium, says the city. But the wood for the roof is not eco-certified. It could come therefore from destructive operations.

"The city promised an ecological stadium. We have met this promise in the construction and management," said Peter Ess, the director of the Department for Buildings, in praise of the new Letzigrund in June. The Letzigrund is due to be opened tomorrow as a environmental and technical bijou. Sustainability in municipal building projects should not be a byproduct, rather an integral component.

Actually the principle of considering ecological criteria in submissions is anchored "in various guidelines" of the Administration, as the city council recently confirmed in an answer to an inquiry by green local councils.

The wood is not FSC-certified

Whether this also applies to the new stadium is doubtful. The underside of the roof consists of Hungarian Robinia wood. It is questionable whether the wood comes from sustainable forest management because it is not FSC-certified (see box). The city confirms the corresponding investigation of the Tages Anzeiger. "It is therefore not to be excluded, that it could be wood from destructive operations", says Simone Stammbach of the WWF Switzerland. WWF Hungary also has some concerns: Robinia plantations are basically problematic, among other things because they stand in part on zones with high conservation value, says forest expert Laszlo Galhidy.

According to WWF only the FSC sustainability label guarantees an environmentally friendly and socially acceptable forest management. Independent certification firms regularly review the FSC-certified forest operations, says Stammbach. Each company that processes wood from an FSC-forest must also be FSC-certified. "In this way is it possible to follow the wood right back to the forest."

The same case as in the Hallenstadion

Whether the Robinia wood in the Letzigrund can be completely traced back to its origin is not clear. Most of it comes from the northeast, the rest from the south and west of Hungary, says Urs Spinner, speaker of the Department of Buildings without going further into detail. One is busy day and night with the commissioning of the stadium, details are not to be expected before 30th August.

WWF Switzerland assesses the fact that the city does not construct the Letzigrund with FSC-wood as "dubious". FSC-certified Robinia wood is available on the market, says Stammbach. "The city of Zurich has missed setting a trustworthy symbol for nature and environment." And this once more in a prestige project. The same mistake already happened in the construction of the new Hallenstadion: The tropical wood used there was also not FSC-certified.

The city is not taking the criticism sitting down. "If possible, the city uses FSC-certified wood", says Spinner. In addition, Zurich has contributed substantially to making the sustainability label well known. The Sihlwald for example, which belongs to the city, is managed to FSC principles.

City is aware of no mistake

FSC-certified Robinia wood is not available in the necessary quantity and quality, counters Spinner. The Robinia wood comes from a "plantation operation, which is sustainable in itself". From the point of view of involved NGOs - including Greenpeace - these plantations would represent no problem for the protection of the biodiversity. "The city is convinced to have used good, sustainable wood," says Spinner. This especially the case because the sustainability is also defined by the length of time that the wood is durable. From this perspective, Robinia is at the forefront of European woods.

The city tested alternatives like oak, but rejected them on the basis of undesirable characteristics as well as because of the risk of staining. Financial considerations would have played no role, assures Spinner. The choice had fallen on Robinia wood because complied with the requirements to be used as a stadium roof: It is well known for its high weather resistance and its excellent properties. So the deciduous tree that is common throughout Europe is used more and more as a replacement for tropical wood. Furthermore, it fulfilled the fire protection technical requirements in the Letzigrund. With conifer wood left untreated, Spinner says, this would not be the case.


Box: Certificate against destruction in the forest

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has existed since 1993. Its goal is an environmentally friendly, socially acceptable and economically viable management of the forests. FSC confirms sustainable forest utilisation with a certificate.


Press release by the firm Robinie (.de) responding to the report that appeared on 29 August in the Swiss "Tagesanzeiger":

28 August 2007, by Stefan Häne

Stadium roof: Evidence that the wood is sustainable is missing

"A forest becomes sustainable not through a label, but rather through its management"

In the course of the public opening of the Letzigrund stadium in Zurich the Swiss Tages-Anzeiger reported on 29 August about the lack of a sustainability label for the Robinia wood on the stadium roof.

Because the city of Zurich promised its citizens an eco-stadium, is doubted now on the newspaper pages that the wood used upholds this promise. A representative of WWF Switzerland is quoted arguing the possibility that the wood could come from destructive operations ("Raubbau"). The WWF-representative also emphasises that according to WWF, the sustainability label FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is the only guarantee of an environmentally and socially acceptable forest management.

What does this reliance solely on certification mean for environmentally aware actions?

Does it mean that we should avoid wood that comes from a demanding but not certified, Central European forestry? Instead must we now (among other things) prioritise using FSC certified tropical wood, in order to count as ecologically and socially correct?

WWF is well known as an advocate of FSC. At the same time it seems to push away the existing criticism of the FSC Label. FSC has been criticised for a long time for serious grievances, which include deceiving consumers, wrongfully awarding certificates, certification of ecologically questionable primary forest plantations ["Urwaldplantagen"] or the connection to human right injuries.

These grievances are well known to WWF. Together with Greenpeace and 75 other environmental and human rights organisations concerns relating to the quality control of FSC were expressed and urgent reforms were demanded.

Although no important changes were reached, WWF meanwhile seems to support FSC without hesitation. Critical foundations such as the "Rainforest Foundation" or web pages like "fsc-watch.org" continue to publish long lists of inconsistencies and document striking problems with FSC.

The representation of the FSC Label as an exclusive guarantee for ecological and socially responsible forest management is therefore simply incorrect and arrogant.

The reproach to the city of Zurich not to meet its ecological promise, also cannot be supported.

In spite of deliberately renouncing the FSC label, the firm Robinie (.de) which supplied the Robinia wood, has a high ecological claim to its products. Because FSC's criteria are, in the opinion of the supplier, extremely inadequately defined an ecological product would not therewith be stringently assured. For this reason, the supplier works with his own clear guidelines.

Robinia is one of the high-value and durable woods which are an ecological alternative to tropical wood that is often used. For this reason alone, the decision of the city in favour of Central European wood should be appraised as an ecological and responsible decision. Criticism of the lack of ecological awareness, and/or conjecture about destructive operations are excessive and without base.

Hungary, as the country of origin for the Robinia used, has comparatively high standards with respect to forest management and plantation management. The imprecise ecological viewpoints of the FSC label are anyway fulfilled or exceeded. No one can talk of destructive operations, in the common meaning of these words.

With the remarks of WWF Switzerland it has now become obvious, that even environment foundations, which previously held the great confidence of the population, are losing their relationship to reality. The impression of a wrong world emerges.

Is it not questionable to criticise controlled Central European products that are used out of ecological motives as a substitute for tropical wood? Instead, with an FSC certificate as a panacea, the use of tropical wood is accelerated and at the same time the interests of globally operating large corporations are preserved.

Gerriet Harms


It's interesting that WWF's Laszlo Galhidy is concerned that the non-certified robinie plantations 'stand in part on zones with high conservation value'.

Has he ever seen any of the plantations all over the southern hemisphere that have been FSC certified? Does he think these stand on what used to be parking lots??

Written guarantee for customers of Robinie (.de)

"Wood from destructive operations"

Dear Sir or Madam,

In the course of cited statements by WWF published in:

Tagesanzeiger, 28th of August 2007, 9:21pm – by Stefan Häne
"Stadium roof: Evidence that the wood is sustainable is missing"

I want to state the following:

Since the first contacts to building owners and executive enterprise as well to the involved architects, I attached importance on pointing out, that all wood delivered by me is guaranteed not FSC certified, because I run a respectable and traceable trade with black locust wood (robinia pseudoacacia). This trade exists on its very high intrinsic ecological and social requirements.

That’s why I refuse strictly the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC cannot guarantee environmental or social standards, which is comprehended by me.

Furthermore it acts only with very unclear terms like "sustainability", "destructive operation", "environmental sustainability" etc. It is in debt with a useful definition.

Moreover the FSC allows (resp. claims) the certification according to its standards of eucalyptus plantation, black locust woods as well as tropical and boreal primeval forests.

Also it legitimise that the charged Certification Organizations (e.g. SGS) can handle the certification of forests, woods and the processing companies in a superficially way, according to my opinion.

For critical examination about FSC look up:
• www.fsc-watch.org ,
• www.rainforestfoundationuk.org,
• www.regenwald.org,

The FSC is surrounded by scandals that offer unequalled opportunities among NGO's (Non-Profit-Organisation). By the way, the FSC is according to German legal form as a gGmbH. That means it is a charitable limited company, but still in a commercial form.

One quotation of FSC aims:

"Promotion of ecology and environment, especially worldwide forest stands, particularly by developing standards for operations which act for conservation of worldwide forest stands, while environmental aspects, social aspects and economic aspects must be regarded with equal importance"
(Source: Auskunft Kreditreform vom 19-4-2007)

...that says everything...

The black locust wood I am trading with comes mainly from Romania and Hungary with different silvicultural models.

Destructive operation (what needs to be defined) is in both countries excluded by law of course. According to my opinion, the strictest forestry laws of Europe (ecological items regarded) are applied to Romania.

The timber of stadium Letzigrund comes solely from Hungary.

Regardless this, we permanent check the origin of wood, so we are always able to prove where the wood came from.

In very soon future we will be able to declare which board came from which part of the forest stand, if necessary with an accuracy of a few dozen meters. (the FSC can only prove the certified forest [e.g. size of 10000 ha]

I try to take actively part in improvements of ecologically silviculture operations in terms of black locust (which are very different from country to country). Different cooperations with universities at home and abroad are active for this.

Besides, the following contradiction exists with the FSC:

Black locust as a tree, which is from silvicultural view most disputed by ecologists (neophyte - invasive plant, primary vegetation tree), is regarded by NGO's as undesirable and as a tree which needs to be displaced. At the same moment the FSC claims the certification of black locust stands, what makes it eco in the end ...

That is a huge contradiction which is explainable for me only by monetary interests of FSC gGmbH.

How can a non-ecological defined forest be certified as ecological?

In my behalf I guarantee:

• that the origin of our wood can be proved every time by an independent expert with the condition that my commercial interests are considered
• that my distributed wood, is processed and distributed by maximum ecologically demand towards forest and production (unfortunately I am still forced to distribute by trucks)
• that my distributed wood comes neither from primeval forests, boreal forests, tropical forests nor from American or Sibirian forests. It comes exclusively from middle and east European commercial forests
• that my distributed wood is not related to destructive operation wood (in common sense), that means it is not taken away from the owner (e.g. indigenous people) in an illegally way (according to domestic law and my concept of law)
• that in all harvesting acts is operated according to law and to licensing requirements and orders
• that all taxes and additional duties were paid an will be paid
• that it is handled and processed with adherence of valid safety requirements in each case
• that a maximum of energy efficiency is aimed (e.g. independent power generation from residues)
• that production happens most resource friendly (as much as possible yield, as less as possible transport distance...)
• that all impacts to the nature occurs as conservative as possible

Because I am convinced that this means much more than every forest certification tool can insure, especially the FSC, I can represent these guarantees with quit conscience and the additional guarantee of non FSC certified wood.

Oldenburg, 30th of August 2007

Gerriet Harms

There are flaws in any human developed certification system. Not withstanding that, a public consulted standard and independently certified certification brings more comfort than a self declared "guarantee" of a person; especially from one that is commercially driven. Robinia pseudoacacia from Romania and Hungary maybe timber produced commercially and environmentally sustainable but other attributes may not have addressed.

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