The solution, Gunneberg said, is ensuring all interested parties invest in and contribute to a "verified and certified sustainable rubber production."
This third-party certification, he said, will create benefits such as sustainable supply and production, better working conditions and environmental benefits.
While rubber use impacts many people, few realize how vital the material is to everyday life, Geneva-based PEFC said. And even fewer know the difference between natural rubber and synthetic rubber.
"Natural rubber is an essential raw material in manufacturing … for thousands of products around us such as medical devices to toys," said Sorakit Manbuphachati, deputy director of the Federation of Thai Industries. "It's involved in every stage of our life." The federation is a non-profit group representing private sector companies in that country.
Thailand is the world's largest exporter of natural rubber, so the country has a stake in improving the conditions and circumstances surrounding the industry, he said.
The campaign seeks to expand PEFC's presence in both the rubber production and rubber wood segments through a multi-faceted approach.
PEFC seeks to build "awareness, engagement and demand for PEFC certification" while "diversifying to new and expanding existing industry opportunities," the group said. The plan is to increase PEFC's visibility and chain of custody certification use.
The non-profit group said rubber trees are grown on 14 million hectares, primarily in Southeast Asia, but also in Latin America and Africa. Natural rubber accounts for 47 percent of the global rubber supply and totaled 13.6 million metric tons in 2019.
Most of the natural rubber—some 70 percent—goes into making tires.
"Despite the size of the industry and the complexity of the supply chain, the sources of this natural rubber are quite modest," PEFC said. Some 6 million smallholders, farmers who tend to rubber trees on independent sites, produce about 85 percent of the world's natural rubber. These small farms are mostly in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.
"And just as PEFC provides chain of custody certification for products originally sourced from forests, like furniture, flooring, paper and packaging, we're ready to do the same for natural rubber and rubber wood, whether its end use is for rubber tires for vehicles or footwear for athletes," PEFC explained.
PEFC already has a history of involvement with the rubber industry as the group is a member of the Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber and a founding supporter of the International Rubber Study Group.
PEFC includes national forest certification systems, non-government organizations, associations, companies and individuals. Members include the Sustainable Forestry Initiative in the U.S. and PEFC Canada.