Innovative projects of WWF, IKEA, and the World Bank are being celebrated today for giving new hope to Bulgaria's environment and economy by preventing a sell-out of the country's forests. The celebrations come as forest conservation specialists from 24 countries meet with corporate partners and international organizations at the "Looking In — Looking Out" forest conference to seek new synergies between forest conservation, business, and financial institutions.
Forests cover 34 per cent of Bulgaria's territory. Much of this is still relatively intact, and home to large numbers of bears and wolves which have disappeared in many other parts of Europe. However, these valuable areas are under growing pressure due to restitution of forests to new owners, illegal harvesting, and interests of foreign companies in cheap timber resources.
Throughout Europe, awareness is mounting about the destructive consequences and inherent business risks of illegal timber. Businesses buying timber from Eastern Europe are increasingly seeking guarantees that the timber comes from legal and well-managed sources. The projects of WWF, IKEA, and the World Bank offer new avenues for responsible timber trade.
"IKEA’s long-term goal is to source all wood from verified, well-managed forests. The cooperation between WWF and IKEA supports the implementation of IKEA’s forest action plan," says Pär Stenmark, Forestry Coordinator, Social and Environmental Affairs, IKEA Group.
WWF and IKEA joined forces in 2002 to promote responsible forestry. In their three-year cooperation, in which Bulgaria is one priority country, the organizations aim to protect forests that are biologically, environmentally, or socially important. They also aim to give financial and marketing incentives to improve forest management. By strengthening forest certification and promoting legal compliance in forestry and trade, the projects are important steps towards creating responsible forestry in Eastern Europe.
WWF and the World Bank are also working in Bulgaria. A new business center, part of the World Bank's Forest Development Project, is helping forest owners to improve forestry practices and to market responsibly harvested wood. WWF has been cooperating with the World Bank through the World Bank/WWF Alliance since 1997. Since its inception, the alliance has mobilized approximately US$4.5 million to support nearly 100 forest conservation projects and fundamental research on forest issues.
WWF’s partnerships with IKEA and the World Bank demonstrate that social and environmental issues are intricately linked to business concerns. The involvement of major financial institutions such as the World Bank and key business players like IKEA is providing forest conservation efforts with unprecedented global support.
Stimulated by the projects in their country, Bulgarians are increasingly taking conservation into their own hands. Over recent months several discussions have taken place between the Bulgarian administration, forest owners, NGOs and national experts in the forest industry on how to better safeguard their own forest resource — to protect nature, but also to provide an economic future for themselves and their children.