Your average Mendocino County shopper probably wouldn’t think twice about purchasing naturally flavored incense. The key words are “naturally flavored.” The natural flavor in some incense is castoreum, made from the sacs between the anus and the external genitals of beavers.
Beavers, of course, are all-natural creators of wood products, which leads to a slightly more complicated shopping lesson. If you buy lumber at The Home Depot you might notice a green stamp in the shape of a tree with the letters FSC below. There may also be another stamp stating: “100% from well managed forests.”
The discerning shopper might well ask who is certifying that these boards or decking or paneling actually come from properly managed forests. FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council, a non-profit based in Minnesota with an international office in Bonn, Germany. The Forest Stewardship Council in turn uses groups like Scientific Certification Systems and Rainforest Alliance to do the actual certification audits.
Much of the lumber at The Home Depot comes from Mendocino Forest Products, sister corporation to Mendocino Redwood Co. which owns well over two hundred thousand acres of Mendocino County timberland. Mendocino Forest Products distributes its lumber exclusively to The Home Depot. Mendocino Forest Products redwood and Douglas fir is certified as being “100% from well managed forests” by the Forest Stewardship Council.
But what does the certification of the Forest Stewardship Council mean? The audits of Mendocino Redwood Co. have been taking place every year, with major audits in five year cycles. The audits are supposed to evaluate the environmental, silviculture, and socioeconomic aspects of Mendocino Redwood Company’s forest management practices. The standards for these audits are set by the Forest Stewardship Council and are available online. FSC is a non-profit; Scientific Certification Systems is a business with $16.7 million in revenue during 2010. Rainforest Alliance is a tax-exempt NGO (Non-governmental organization).
Part of Rainforest Alliance’s mandate is to verify that products are grown in an environmentally responsible manner. According to their own literature Rainforest Alliance auditors were on the ground in Mendocino Redwood Company’s timberland for parts of two days during 2012. Less than two days to monitor more than 200,000 acres of forests. The two days this year were May 22-23, well before logging operations get into in full swing.
Close examination might lead a cautious shopper to wonder whether the auditors, certifiers, and the business aren’t part of one large self-congratulatory circle. Mike Jani, former chief forester with Mendocino Redwood and now President of Humboldt Redwood Co. (companion corporation to Mendocino Redwood Co – both are owned by Sansome Partners LLC, which is an investment vehicle for the Fisher family behind The GAP, Inc.) sits on the board of Directors of the Forest Stewardship Council. Scientific Certifications System and The Rainforest Alliance are paid by Mendocino Redwood to do the audits which allow Mendocino Redwood Co. wood products to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. These green stamped wood products are then sold by The Home Depot, the same Home Depot that contributed $250,000 to the Forest Stewardship Council in 2008, $180,000 in 2006, and $200,000 in 2005.
The chief executive of Rainforest Alliance is paid over $200,000 annually. In 2010 Rainforest Alliance had a total income of $33,626,000. Over $11 million of that came in certification fees.
The Rainforest Alliance has received contributions between $100,000 and $1,000,000 from Kraft Foods Global Inc., Nestle, The Estee Lauder Companies Inc., Citi Group, Unilever, and Mars, Incorporated amongst others.