This profile was prepared when René Reyes was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
René has created a new model of sustainable firewood harvesting to replace the environmentally harmful forestry practices in Chile. René protects Chile’s temperate rainforests and the broader environment while promoting fair trade and ensuring producers in his system receive a larger percentage of profits. René has introduced certification, a process usually associated with export goods, for locally produced firewood that meets high conservation and quality standards. The standards are agreed upon by all in the wood harvesting chain—from tree cutters to packagers to salespeople— and enforced by a local board. Higher prices and greater prestige are an incentive for producers and vendors to join René’s regulated marketplace. René has provided a legal framework for the highly informal logging market and created real added value (in commanding a premium price) in order to improve the livelihoods of poor producers. His national information campaign has helped consumers begin to recognize the benefits of regulation, both for quality of the product and the long-term sustainability of this inexpensive energy source. This campaign has altered consumer attitudes by making it clear that both Chilean people and Chile’s native forests benefit from respecting the law. At a time when energy-starved Chile is hunting to diversify its energy sources, René offers an innovative solution to conserve a renewable energy source that is cheaper and more reliable than imported oil, gas or hydroelectricity, and still protects the country’s environment.