Fair Trade Furniture, Guitars, etc., For Sale

Discussion
Apr 22, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


You might not think the best way to preserve valuable old growth forest space would be to cut down trees but that’s exactly what is happening in places such as the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala.


In the past, locals would chop down trees and sell the lumber illegally. If they were caught, the lumber would be confiscated and they would be put in jail.


Today, the Guatemala National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) working with non-governmental agencies such as the Rainforest Alliance have designated “multipurpose areas” within the reserve allowing local communities to harvest lumber and sell it legally.


According to a report in The Christian Science Monitor, harvested wood “is monitored and then certified by the Rainforest Alliance’s independent auditing agency called SmartWood.”


The results of the program in Guatemala have been eye opening.


The locals have benefited because they earn more money (roughly twice as much) for the lumber than going the illegal route.


Secondly, the forest and environment have also benefited. In places where the program has been instituted, only one percent of forested land has been lost compared to 40 percent in other areas.


Today, SmartWood certified lumber or fair trade wood as it is sometimes called is a growing business, albeit a small fraction of the total worldwide trade. Still, companies such as Home Depot and Gibson Guitars are adding to the purchasing levels, and environmentalists and human rights advocates are looking to continue building awareness on the topic.


David Dudenhoefer, communications director for Rainforest Alliance, said, “Our goal is to make this grow every year, which is happening.”


Jason Benford, director of Earthsource Forest Products, which sells 300,000 board-feet a year of certified wood, said, “There is huge, and growing demand. I would parallel this with fair-trade coffee.”


Moderator’s Comment: What is the role (responsibility?) of retailers in educating consumers about so-called fair trade issues and selling these types
of products? Can retailers establish a market for these products where one previously didn’t exist by actively promoting them to customers?

George Anderson – Moderator

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

7 Comments on "Fair Trade Furniture, Guitars, etc., For Sale"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Christopher Fink, CMC
Guest
Christopher Fink, CMC
15 years 10 months ago

Guatelmalan CONAP is an effective process-solution to the complex environmental, social and commercial issues surrounding the management of their forest resource. Retailers may want to consider the results of the “instant poll” in deciding whether to inform or advocate for fair-trade environmental commercial issues. If social awareness is an element of the retailer’s strategy, then advocating these issues makes sense (and would likely do well with their consumers). Otherwise, the poll results may suggest that fair-trade is just another ‘product feature’ to offer consumers who are seeking a good value in a wood product.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
15 years 10 months ago

There is clearly an opportunity for more retailers to offer products that are more environmentally friendly than traditional products. Since most shoppers are attracted to a sale/low price combination, I doubt whether these types of products are ever going to have a huge market share. But, upscale-oriented retailers can distinguish themselves here, and I think the market will grow, albeit off a small base.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 10 months ago
There are more issues here than are apparent in George’s questions. First and foremost, there is a big difference between Fair Trade and the Rainforest Alliance (see Fair Games – Guardian Limited for details). The implications, therefore, of what retailers can and should do to educate consumers about what they are selling are pretty complex. Do they stick to legitimate Fair Trade products where producers are guaranteed a minimum income? Or do they ignore the difference as this article seems to? Or do they endorse an alternative accreditation which may be trading more fairly for multinational manufacturers than for indigenous producers? Perhaps education in this context is a matter of semantics. What can and should be endorsed and promoted is sustainability. Strictly speaking, it is more a retailer’s responsibility to make money BUT, endorsing and promoting ethical and fairly traded products, and helping to make them more mainstream than they are at present, should help them achieve their own primary objectives. In an ideal world, there would indeed be a steady growth in awareness, purchase… Read more »
Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

The question for retailers may well turn on whether consumers know what “Fair Trade” really means. Who’s endorsement is this? Are the requirements uniform? (e.g. Is the Fair Trade designation for coffee earned in the same way as the Fair Trade designation for wood products?) Obviously, the endorsements perpetrate a certain social agenda. They are not “quality” driven like the Good Housekeeping Seal or “safety” driven like UL. Is the education of consumers as to what “Fair Trade” means up to each trade group who assumes the title? Effectively, marketing to consumers will first require answers to these questions.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

From what I’ve seen, shoppers respect, and hold in higher regard, those retailers who make an effort to communicate honestly with them. That includes education about food and products sold in the store. Those “warm fuzzies” are significant differentiators. So educating shoppers about these products is always a plus. But given their own need to stay in business and continue with their “good works,” retailers must be sure these products pay their own way, or provide enough soft benefit (via warm fuzzies, differentiation) to make their targeted shoppers more loyal and thus more profitable.

Ron Margulis
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

Retailers help both fulfill and create demand for products and services, and these products are no different. Markets with a high consumer interest in the environment will no doubt have a high demand for SmartWood certified lumber or fair trade wood. So retailers selling lumber in Berkeley, California should seriously consider stocking and promoting these items. In most other markets, producers and retailers will have to work to create demand for the wood as an environment-friendly alternative to existing products.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

It’s only the retailer’s responsibility to educate consumers so long as it results in removing more money from the consumer and transferring it into the pockets of the retailer’s investors.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

Will you personally purchase a fair trade product, if available, over another item that is not certified?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...