"In addition, these policies were effective in targeting regions that were at a higher risk of forest clearing," Robert Heilmayr of Stanford University told environmentalresearchweb. "Whereas traditional government conservation efforts often target regions that are ill-suited for development, or far away from people (think of remote American national parks), these new policies were able to reduce deforestation on properties owned by the largest timber companies in Chile."

Private market-driven policies such as market campaigns, moratoria and certification schemes reduced deforestation in Chile by 2–23%, the researchers found. More collaborative governance structures that incorporated the views of both NGOs and corporations were better at slowing deforestation than approaches that were more confrontational, according to Heilmayr and colleague Eric Lambin.

"While purchasing products with various eco-labels (e.g. FSC-certified wood, Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee, MSC-certified seafood), I had often wondered how effective these programmes were in changing the environmental impacts of production," said Heilmayr. "However, I was surprised to discover that there was relatively little rigorous research to determine what the on-the-ground impacts of these programmes has been."

Heilmayr and Lambin looked at the impacts of the FSC and CERTFOR eco-certification systems, which aim to end natural forest clearing in Chile's timber sector, along with the Joint Solutions Project, a voluntary agreement between several timber companies and environmental NGOs to "stop natural forest clearing in exchange for an end to a negative publicity campaign targeting Chilean timber". By the end of the 20th century, the main cause of deforestation in Chile was the conversion of natural forests to industrial pine and eucalyptus plantations.

The multistakeholder FSC certification had a greater effect on deforestation than either the timber industry-led CERTFOR certification or the NGO-instigated JSP participation, the researchers found.

Heilmayr believes the study indicates that eco-certification schemes and voluntary agreements between NGOs and corporations can significantly reduce deforestation. "This is important because similar policies are being deployed around the world to address deforestation associated with the production of Indonesian palm oil, Brazilian soy and beef or Canadian timber," he said. "Our research suggests that incorporating a wide variety of perspectives in the governance process may lead to more significant environmental benefits."

Other studies have shown that Brazil’s zero deforestation cattle agreement and forest certification in Indonesia reduced deforestation rates, but timber certification in Mexico has not had much impact.

Now Heilmayr is exploring the impacts of Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification on Indonesian deforestation and fires. "As I move forward, I hope this research will inform efforts to most effectively address environmental problems through changes in global supply chains," he said.

Heilmayr and Lambin reported their findings in PNAS.

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