A 2011 photo provided by environmental organization Protect the Forest… (Robert Svensson / Protect…)
In response to accusations by European NGOs that IKEA and its wholly owned subsidiary, Swedwood, were engaging in some questionable logging practices in Russia, Ikea is arguing that it has been cutting according to international standards that the company itself helped create.
Last week in Greenspace, Swedish group Protect the Forest and Russian group the Karelian Regional Nature Conservancy (which goes by the acronym SPOK) repeated claims that Swedwood is logging old-growth trees and is logging some High Conservation Value Forests (HCVF) in the taiga of the Russian Karelia, which is a forested area on the border with Finland. Swedwood is certified for responsible logging practices by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a monitoring body, but both groups say the certification standards need revision.
“This area, in Northern Karelia, does contain high conservation value forests. And inside the lease that Swedwood has up there, there definitely are high conservation values,” said Anders Hildeman, forestry manager for Ikea, who spoke by phone from Sweden. “We agree on that with the NGOs, that this is an area that has to be managed with a lot of extra precaution. So there’s no argument about that.”
There evidently is plenty of argument, however, on the definitions of “old-growth” and “high conservation value,” and on Ikea’s responsibilities according to the environmental groups involved. A comment from SPOK leader Alexander Markovsky laid out the ambiguities at the heart of the conflict: Ikea might be meeting Russian standards, but high-value stands are still being cut.
“SPOK confirm that Swedwood cut HCVF (old growth forest) in their leased area,” wrote Markovsky in English in an email (all emailed statements reproduced here as written). “Russian FSC standarts and common FSC practice does not demand full ban of logging HCVF.”
SPOK representatives confirm that they worked with Swedwood fairly extensively until Jan. 1, 2011, when they had listed Swedwood at the top of their rankings for timber firms working in Karelia. Now there seems to have been something of a falling out, as SPOK confirms it hasn’t had contact with Swedwood since that time and has publicized an ongoing petition drive by Protect the Forest to get reforms in Swedwood’s logging practices. Hildeman says the definitions definitely matter.
“I think it’s very much up to the perception of what ‘high conservation value forests’ are,” he says. “We’ve been working with the NGOs, we’ve been working with the scientists to develop these inventory methods which we’re applying on the ground. Just because there are old trees present in the stand, that does not mean that it’s high conservation value. You need to look at species, size of the area, exposition, position. I think that a lot is in the methodology on identifying high conservation value forests.”
Ikea sells its products with a promise of sustainable forestry and environmental responsibility, and the company wants to either get this right or to get the cover of agreed-upon terms. When it first approached logging leases in the Karelia in 2003, the company says it faced a federal and local Russian government with no definition for HCVF, few standards for things like “old-growth,” and local requirements to clear-cut rather than leave trees along streambeds and other sensitive areas. To its credit, the company began large-scale talks looking to include both local and international NGOs in the development of standards and to developed a Russian standard for FSC certification. When it did purchase leases, the company voluntarily excised 17% of the lease because it judged those forests to be too sensitive.
Working together with SPOK, Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Swedwood did identify one specially protected natural area that it agreed not to cut. Unlike some other companies in the Karelia, Swedwood honored this request.
“At the same time,” writes Markovsky, “Swedwood, bases on FSC standart should discovery Hight concervation value forest – HCVF (in their case – old growth forest) and protect it (because such kind of forest includes red listed species).”
Interviewed for the earlier Greenspace story, Swedish environmental group Protect the Forest indicated that it went to a forestry conference in Russia in 2008 and began investigating conditions on the ground in the Karelia, finding that some HCVF were being cut that should have been identified and saved by Swedwood according to FSC standards.
Swedwood disagrees, and Hildeman says that part of the problem is that Karelian forests are different than Swedish ones.