Vanderbilt University and Forest Stewardship Council to collaborate, Measuring social impact is goal of Center for the Americas study

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt University has launched a major study in collaboration with the Forest Stewardship Council to determine what constitutes the social impact of responsible forest management in the Americas and how that impact can best be measured.

“People tend to make a lot of assumptions about environmentally sound practices having beneficial impact on local communities,” said Vera Kutzinski, director of Vanderbilt’s Center for the Americas, which is conducting the study. “But these assumptions have not been systematically tested. In our study, we are trying to find out whether and how particular communities in the Americas are better off, economically, socially, and culturally, because their natural resources are managed responsibly. For both Vanderbilt University and FSC, people are at the heart of responsible forest management.”

Formed in 1993, the FSC is the recognized leader in responsible forest management in the world. It is supported by the World Wildlife Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, among others, and its standards and eco-labeling system for forest products are the only ones that are internationally accepted. To date, more than 1.23 million acres of forest land in more than 60 countries are FSC certified, and thousands of forest products use FSC approved wood and carry its trademark.

The social impact study will be carried out through a collaborative agreement in which the FSC International Center, based in Bonn, Germany, will share information with Vanderbilt researchers. Specifically, they will be looking at the benefits that may have resulted from the FSC’s certification system in North, Central, and especially South America. The goal is twofold: to document those benefits, understand how they were produced, and, on that basis, develop more precise social indicators. The researchers hope that the results of their study will be applicable worldwide and be useful to other industries. For a more detailed description of the project, see

“I am especially pleased at this collaboration with Vanderbilt University, given their reputation for excellence, and am confident that the work will lead to the development of practical social impact indicators in the field of forest certification,” said Heiko Liedeker, executive director of the FSC. “Together we aim to identify the social benefits that flow from certification with a view to enhancing these in the future.”

FSC officials are certain their work results in real benefits to forest communities, said Alan Smith, social policy officer for the FSC.

“The Center for the Americas study should provide insights into how certification is achieving this,” Smith said. “Specifically, it will contribute to developing social impact indicators which accurately reflect the relevance of FSC’s work to forest populations.”

A work group of 10 and several research assistants from Vanderbilt is undertaking the study for Vanderbilt’s Center for the Americas, led by Kutzinski, the Martha Rivers Ingram professor of English. Work on the study’s initial phase began in July with financial support from the Center and will continue at least through April 2006. Further funding will be sought to complete the study, which is expected to last for at least 3 years.

Other members of the group are Mark Cohen, the Justin Potter Distinguished Professor of American Competitive Business; Francisco Estrada-Belli, assistant professor of anthropology; Sean Goudie, assistant professor of English; William Partridge, professor of human and organizational development; and several students from the Owen Graduate School of Management and the Law School. Mitchell Seligson, the Centennial Professor of Political Science, will act as a consultant on the project. It is expected that others will join the group as its work progresses.

The Center for the Americas is an interdisciplinary, transinstitutional research center at Vanderbilt. Its research groups investigate the cultural, economic and political interactions among the countries and territories of the Western hemisphere and between the region and other parts of the world.

Media contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS

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