Shop around to save the rainforests | WWF New Zealand

Shop around to save the rainforests

Posted on
06 May 2010
Blog from WWF-New Zealand's Executive Director Chris Howe.

Tropical rainforests are often referred to as the ‘lungs of the planet’ because they continuously recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen, which we all breathe to survive. It is clear that the disappearance of huge swathes of such forests means the prognosis is not looking good for the health of our living planet, or ourselves.

Despite decades of campaigning by conservationists to protect these complex ecosystems, 12-15 million hectares of forest are lost each year. That’s roughly equivalent to an area the size of the South Island. Or to put it another way, we are losing forests and the endangered animals that live in them at the rate of 36 footballs fields a minute. A scary statistic. And the problem is not new. I remember quite clearly a scientist friend of mine in the early nineties saying that all that was left of a forest he studied in the Philippines were the papers he had written on them – they were long gone, turned into farmland and oil palm plantations.

It was at that time that WWF and other environmental organisations recognised that campaigning for new laws and regulations wasn’t enough – we had to work with business as well. And businesses need customers, so, if we persuaded customers to demand high environmental standards, wouldn’t the market respond? Out of that idea came the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a scheme designed to assure buyers of products from toilet seats to toilet paper, garden chairs to building spars that their purchases were not contributing to the loss of high conservation value forest, and at best were making a positive contribution to protecting important forests.

But shifting ideas takes time. Now, seventeen years after the FSC was founded a paper buyers’ guide has just been launched in New Zealand. It covers paper only, not all forest products, but it’s a start. Because even today, there are companies like the infamous Asian Pulp and Paper (APP) who are felling environmentally valuable forest in both the tropics as well temperate countries, either to grow crops or just for raw material for paper.

Why does this matter? Tropical and temperate forests are home to some of the planet’s most iconic endangered species. Tigers, organ-utans, rhinos and elephants all depend on forests to survive. And alongside them, there are tens of thousands of plants, birds, insects existing in a complex, ancient web of life. In fact, forests contain the vast majority of the world's land-based biodiversity; deforestation over the past 35 years has been a major contributor to the extinction crisis we are facing today.

Forests are also vital in the fight to stop runaway climate change. Why? Because they are the largest storehouse of carbon, after coal and oil. When they are destroyed by activities such as logging and land conversion for agriculture, they release large quantities of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. For example, recent estimates rank Indonesia as the third largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet, after China and the US, mainly due to the destruction of its ancient forests and the biodiversity they support.

It is therefore very important that when you buy paper, you make sure it doesn’t come from those destructive sources. The best way to do that is by looking to buy either 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper or to buy products that carry the FSC label. This should be your first option, although there are other certification schemes if FSC is not available on the product you want. At the very least, you should ask the retailer for information about whether the product comes from a sustainable source. If they don’t know – then don’t buy it.

Using the market and consumer pressure is only one part of saving wildlife and wild places, but it is an important part, and something we can all do through making informed and better choices when we buy products, whether that is paper, fish, or furniture. So next time you are out shopping, please remember that you too have a role to play in keeping the planet’s great forests standing.


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