Sustainable development is usually described as encompassing three main pillars: Environmental, social, and economic. But there are other important dimensions that need to be addressed.
“Sustainability is about much more than just the environmental, social and economic dimensions. It is also about the dimensions of space and time, both of which need to be addressed for sustainable development to make a real difference on the ground,” said Thorsten Arndt, Head of Communications at PEFC International, at the 2nd International Convention on Sustainable Trade and Standards in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“The dimension of space means that we have to translate our global understanding of sustainable development into the local context and address the unique local framework conditions, which are different from country to country,” Mr. Arndt explained.
“The dimension of time takes into account that our understanding and our expectations of sustainability change over time, so we need to adapt it on a regular basis,” he continued.
In sustainable forest management, PEFC addresses the dimensions of space and time through its unique bottom-up approach.
The dimension of space: Key to uptake of PEFC certification
PEFC addresses the challenge of space by only working through national standards. National standards are developed by local stakeholders and managed and administered through national forest certification systems.
PEFC requires for these national forest certification systems to be supported by the majority of the forest owners at national level, and forest owners must – as the affected party of sustainable forest management requirements – participate in the development of the national standards.
This is key to the success of PEFC globally as it enables countries to tailor their sustainable forest management requirements to their specific forest ecosystems, the legal and administrative framework, the socio-cultural context and other relevant factors.
It also is key to the uptake of certification locally, as it empowers those managing forests – small- and private forest owners, communities and companies – to do so in compliance with the standards that they themselves helped develop.
The dimension of time: Adapting our understanding of sustainability
Sustainability is not an absolute concept. In addition to being relative in terms of space, it is also relative in terms of time. Knowledge, needs and expectations as to our understanding of sustainability – and sustainable forest management – change over time, both at global and at local levels.
This is why PEFC continuously engages in multi-stakeholder dialogues to capture and consider changing framework conditions and re-align how we balance the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable forest management.
We do this by regularly reviewing and revising our standards both at global and at national level. It is through these deliberations that we foster and adapt our understanding of sustainable forest management.
This also explains why PEFC-endorsed national standards go beyond compliance with our globally-recognized Sustainability Benchmarks as they add specific locally relevant requirements, in response to national framework conditions. These locally relevant requirements evolve as countries develop and as sustainable forest management practices address key issues, giving room for additional demands on sustainable forest management to be considered.
“This is why there is a need for ongoing dialogue, for regular reviews and revision of standards. Issues that we expect to be addressed through sustainable forest management change over time, which is why it is important that we continuously adapt our understanding of sustainability,” said Mr. Arndt.