P R O F I L E S I N S U S TA I N A B L E F O R E S T R Y
The Greening of Gibson: Prestigious Guitar Manufacturer
Aims for Maximum Sustainability
In the early 1990’s, Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of Gibson Musical Instruments, was concerned about the
increasing scarcity of mahogany available to manufacture the high-quality guitars for which his company was
famous. Then he met Richard Donovan, chief of forestry for the Rainforest Alliance. Donovan suggested
that Gibson use only mahogany that had been certified as responsibly grown and harvested…so that the
company could secure an ongoing supply of wood while helping to conserve forestlands.
The Rainforest Alliance and Gibson teamed up, and in 1996, the
world’s first eco-friendly guitar, the Les Paul SmartWood Standard,
was introduced to the public. The new Les Paul guitar — Gibson’s
signature product, legendary among music aficionados — is crafted
using wood from forests certified by the Rainforest Alliance to the
comprehensive standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Forestry operations that follow these standards take steps to con-
serve ecosystems, wildlife habitat, soils and waterways while
respecting the rights and contributing to the well-being of forest
workers and neighboring communities.
Since that time, Gibson has been continually expanding its efforts to
obtain sustainably produced wood. The company is working with its
suppliers around the world, moving them towards increasing levels of
sustainable management for all types of wood used by the company
in its musical instruments — from guitars to pianos to banjos.
“Our goal,” says Juszkiewicz, “is not just to promote certified wood
guitars as something special, but to lead by example — so that the
use of certified wood becomes standard procedure throughout
Ongoing demand for mahogany — once widely available —
Solid Results — and Ambitious New Goals has significantly decreased the population of the trees.
The beauty, durability and richness of tone produced by mahogany In 2002, Gibson and the Rainforest Alliance began a joint sourcing
has made it a long-time favorite of musical instrument manufactur- initiative to increase the amount of FSC-certified mahogany and
ers. However, ongoing demand — along with greed and irresponsible domestic hardwoods purchased by one of Gibson’s four major
forestry — has significantly decreased the population of mahogany divisions — Gibson USA, which produces electric guitars. Two
trees, which were once widespread from Mexico down through years later, the partners had an additional incentive to meet this
South America. Without careful extraction and management to goal: the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
encourage natural regeneration, the slow-growing mahogany tree (CITES) ruled that only mahogany from sustainably managed
could disappear altogether from the forests of Latin America. sources could be sold on the international market.
The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods
OUR MISSION by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior.
Gibson’s efforts have produced substantial results. To date, Communities have also learned to cut trees
Gibson USA has increased its purchase of FSC-certified mahogany responsibly — they now replant three mahogany
by between 20 and 25 percent per year (370,000 board feet were seedlings for each mature tree harvested, which
purchased in 2007). Another of the company’s four major divisions, they did not do previously, and they don’t
Gibson Montana, also now uses a large percentage of certified clearcut large areas for timber or conversion
wood — which includes not only mahogany but such domestic to non-forest use.
species as hard maple, basswood and swamp ash.
In addition, Rainforest Alliance staff have been
More recently, Gibson and the Rainforest Alliance have expanded training local sawmills to mill mahogany to
their efforts. In 2007, Gibson agreed to commit three-quarters of a Gibson’s particular needs. Pieces that in the past
million dollars to a new action plan incorporating all of the company’s would have been thrown away are now milled
divisions. The goal: to maximize the percentage of Gibson’s entire for Gibson guitar neck stock, which increases
wood supply obtained from sustainable sources. the yield from every mahogany tree. Five of Rio
Plátano’s forestry cooperatives have received
training in sustainable production, and the
Rainforest Alliance is planning to provide assis-
tance and training to all 11 cooperatives.
Not only has the certification improved
forest management, but nearby national
parks and local communities have also
invested their earnings from the sale
of certified wood in improving their
schools and drinking water systems.
In the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Gibson
has helped support almost 2,500
forest-sector jobs, as sales of FSC-
certified timber have surpassed
Sawmill employees have been trained to mill mahogany to meet
Gibson’s particular needs; pieces that once would have been thrown Gibson and the Rainforest
away are now saved for Gibson guitar neck stock. Alliance have high hopes that
their successful partnership will
Sustainable Forestry Strikes a Chord inspire other wood products
companies to follow suit.
Throughout Latin America, Gibson’s supplier communities are “Companies committed to pur-
In 1996, the Rainforest Alliance and
benefiting from the push to certification. Two significant examples: chasing certified products bene- Gibson teamed up to create the
the Rio Plátano and Maya Biosphere Reserves, tropical forest areas fit from partnering with the world’s first eco-friendly guitar, the
set aside by the Honduran and Guatemalan governments, respec- Rainforest Alliance,” says Daphne Les Paul SmartWood Standard.
tively, to conserve their unique natural and cultural heritage. Hewitt, senior project manager
with the Rainforest Alliance’s Training, Extension, Enterprises and
In the Rio Plátano Reserve — where government legislation was Sourcing (TREES) program. “Our deep understanding of forestry
only fueling a black market mahogany trade — illegal harvesting supply chains means we can find certified sources and move a
has been greatly reduced as local loggers, who once sold wood for company’s suppliers towards increasing sustainability over the
less than 25 cents per foot, now sell to Gibson for nearly 40 times long haul. We have on-the-ground networks and partners all over
that amount. With training from the Rainforest Alliance, the com- the world to help build sourcing relationships.”
munities now work on the fringe of the reserve’s protected buffer
zone to salvage flawless mahogany blocks from trees felled by Visit Gibson’s Web site, www.gibson.com/en-us/
storms and selectively harvest trees according to approved sus- Lifestyle/Features/Built%20in%20Nashville,%20Grown
tainable forest management plans, which they then cut to Gibson’s %20in%20H/, to learn more about their work
exacting standards. with the Rainforest Alliance.
Photos: Coop Caiful, Gibson USA, C. Trewick
For more information about the Rainforest Alliance’s sustainable forestry program,
please visit www.rainforest-alliance.org/forestry
USA • Bolivia • Costa Rica • Ecuador • Guatemala • Indonesia • Mexico • Nicaragua • Spain • United Kingdom
665 Broadway, Suite 500 • New York, NY 10012-2331 • Tel: 212/677-1900 • Fax: 212/677-2187