Certified wood and paper products come from responsibly managed forests – as defined by a particular standard. With third-party forest certification, an independent organization develops standards of good forest management, and independent auditors issue certificates to forest operations that comply with those standards.
Forest certification programs typically require that forest management practices conform to existing laws. Other basic requirements or characteristics of forest certification programs include:
Basic requirements of credible forest certification programs include:
- Protection of biodiversity, species at risk and wildlife habitat; sustainable harvest levels; protection of water quality; and prompt regeneration (e.g., replanting and reforestation).
- Third-party certification audits performed by accredited certification bodies.
- Publicly available certification audit summaries.
- Multi-stakeholder involvement in a standards development process.
- Complaints and appeals process.
Today there are more than 50 certification programs worldwide  addressing the many types of forests and tenures around the world. The two largest international forest certification programs are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).
The PEFC is the largest certification framework in terms of forest area, with approximately two-thirds of the total certified area. The FSC program is the fastest growing.
Third-party forest certification was pioneered in the early 1990s by the Forest Stewardship Council, a collaboration between environmental NGOs, forest product companies and social interests. Competing systems quickly emerged throughout the world. Some commentators, including Jared Diamond, have suggested that many competing standards were set up by logging companies specifically aiming to confuse consumers with less rigorously enforced but similarly named competing standards. In addition to the Forest Stewardship Council, other certification programs used in North America include the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (originally formed by the American Forest and Paper Association and now operating as an NGO); the Canadian Standards Association (a government program); and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (an NGO, originally named the Pan-European Forest Certification Council).
United States and Canada
In the United States and Canada, there are a number of forest certification programs. Three of these programs are endorsed by the PEFC. They are the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), the Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable Forest Management Standard  and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Program. ATFS is applicable only in the United States; the Canadian Standards Association SFM Standard is applicable only in Canada. SFI is applicable to both the United States and Canada. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), program is applied throughout North America. SFI is the world’s largest regional forest certification program in terms of total certified forest area.
The National Association of State Foresters in the USA passed a resolution in 2008 that supports all of the forest certification systems used in the USA and recognized the value of their differences: “. . . the ATFS, FSC, and SFI systems include the fundamental elements of credibility and make positive contributions to forest sustainability. . . . No certification program can credibly claim to be ‘best’, and no certification program that promotes itself as the only certification option can maintain credibility. Forest ecosystems are complex and a simplistic ‘one size fits all’ approach to certification cannot address all sustainability needs.”.
The Canadian Council of Forest Ministers issued a statement in 2008 on forest certification standards in Canada, which said: “In Canada, each jurisdiction’s forest laws, policies and administrative requirements comprise an over-arching framework that fully characterizes what sustainable forest management (SFM) means in that jurisdiction, and what actions may take place on public and/or private forest land. Governments in Canada support third-party forest certification as a tool to demonstrate the rigor of Canada’s forest management laws, and to document the country’s world-class sustainable forest management record. The forest management standards of the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) are all used in Canada. Governments in Canada accept that these standards demonstrate, and promote the sustainability of forest management practices in Canada.” 
An additional certification process, called chain-of-custody certification, is employed to track products from a certified forest through processing to the point of sale.
FSC, SFI and PEFC have chain-of-custody standards that support their on-product labels. For more information, see FSC chain of custody OR FSC types of certificates (http://www.fsccanada.org/productlabel.htm); PEFC chain of custody (http://www.pefccanada.org/custody.htm); and SFI labels and claims (http://www.sfiprogram.org/SFI_labels_and_claims.php)
PEFC Canada represents organizations in Canada that have certified their forestry operations to the Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable Forest Management Standard, as well as organizations and businesses that are certified to the PEFC International Chain of Custody Standard.
The United Nations reports that between January 2009 and May 2010, the total number of PEFC and FSC chain-of-custody certificates issued worldwide increased by 88% for a total of 23,717 certificates (this does not include SFI certificates).
Chain-of-Custody in practice
Nampak Cartons and Labels (NCL) is a print and packaging company, part of the largest packaging group in Africa, Nampak Limited. NCL is both Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Chain-of-Custody (CoC) certified
NCL is a major supplier of folding cartons to the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry in South Africa, a sector which is environmentally aware. With paper being the major raw material component for the manufacture of folding cartons, both the FSC and SFI certifications are part of Nampak’s Sustainability Initiative to support and drive the importance of sustainable renewable resources, such as well managed forests, the primary source for paper products.
NCL procures 80% of its paper from the America’s, 40% from a FSC CoC certified mill in Brazil, South America, called Klabin, and 60% from a SFI CoC certified mill in Virginia, North America, called MeadWestvaco. Meadwestvaco acts as the agent between the Klabin mill and NCL and in order to do this became FSC CoC certified to ensure CoC compliance. Hence one of the most important criteria for the CoC standard is not to break the supply chain from forest to consumer. The CoC tracks the certified material through the production process – from the forest to the consumer, including all successive stages of processing, transformation, manufacturing and distribution. The importance of this standard, is that the consumer is able to trace the particular paper packaging back through the supply chain to its source being the well managed renewable forest.
A Typical CoC Print and Packaging Supply Chain would start at the source, i) Healthy Forest move through to the, ii) Paper mill onto the, iii) Paper Supplier then, iv) The Printer and finally onto, v) The Consumer. The cycle is continuous via the certified well managed forests, ensuring sustainability.
Support the initiative by purchasing paper packaging products that carry one of the many CoC labels, e.g. FSC or SFI.
Forest certification is a voluntary process about 10% of the world’s forest under at least one certification program. Customers that choose to buy certified products are supporting land managers, land owners and forest product companies that have made a commitment to meeting the standards of forest certification.
Third-party forest certification is a useful tool for those seeking to purchase paper and wood products that come from forests that are well-managed and use materials that are legally harvested. Incorporating third-party certification into forest product buying practices can be a centerpiece for responsible wood and paper purchasing policies that include factors such as the protection of sensitive forest values, thoughtful material selection and efficient use of products.
The 2009-2010 United Nations Market Review reported that companies that produced or traded in certified forest products often had a market advantage during the 2008-2009 recession because, in a buyers’ market, buyers could be more selective in choosing their sources of supply. The report cites four demand drivers for certification:
- Paper, publishing, printing and packaging – commitments to increase the use of responsible paper sources by large publishers such as Time Inc. has probably been the most significant factor driving growth in forest and chain-of-custody certification.
- Green public procurement – governments such as the UK and the Netherlands have adopted green timber procurement policies, including recognition of FSC and PEFC endorsed programs. An example is the UK’s Central Point of Expertise on Timber (set up by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and operated by ProForest).
- Green building – standards for green building incentivize and reward the use of certified wood products.
- Illegal logging – new legislation designed to minimize the risk of illegal wood entering supply chains such as the amended Lacey Act in the United States has created a strong incentive to demand independently certified wood that can address illegal logging concerns.
The World Resources Institute, in partnership with the Environmental Investigation Agency, released a fact sheet designed to answer some of the frequently asked questions about the Lacey Act, which was amended in 2008 to ban commerce in illegally sourced plants and their products—including timber, wood, and paper products. The fact sheet says forest certification is a very good approach for demonstrating due care by showing government and customers that a company has taken proactive steps to eliminate illegal wood or plant material from its supply chain. Certification does not relieve importers of the requirement to submit appropriate import declaration information to U.S. government agencies.
- Green building
- Environmental audits
- Forest protection
- Illegal logging
- GREENGUARD Environmental Institute
- Sustainable forest management
- Sustainable management
- Wood management
- Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification
- ^ Metafore Forest Certification Resource Center
- ^ National Association of State Foresters Policy Statement 2008
- ^ Third-Party Forest Certification in British Columbia
- ^ UNECE/FAO 2009-2010 Forest Products Annual Market Review page 115
- ^ Diamond, Jared (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail Or Succeed. London: Penguin. p. 479. ISBN 0143036556. http://books.google.com/books?id=QyzHKSCYSmsC.
- ^ CSA International Forest Products Marking
- ^ Forest Stewardship Council Canada
- ^ FSC United States
- ^ Forest Certification as it Contributes to Sustainable Forestry
- ^ Canadian Council of Forest Ministers Statement on Forest Certification Standards in Canada
- ^ Government of Australia
- ^ PEFC Canada
- ^ UNECE/FAO 2009-2010 Forest Products Annual Market Review page 118
- ^ 
- ^ http://www.fsc.org
- ^ http://www.sfiprogram.org
- ^ http://www.fmcg.co.za
- ^ http://www.nampak.com/Sustainability-Report.aspx
- ^ http://www.klabin.com.br/pt-br/home/Default.aspx
- ^ http://www.meadwestvaco.com/index.htm
- ^ UNECE/FAO 2009-2010 Forest Products Annual Market Review page 113
- ^ Metafore
- ^ UNECE/FAO 2009-2010 Forest Products Annual Market Review page 114
- ^ Time Inc. Sustainability Report 2009-2010 page 10
- ^ Central Point of Expertise on Timber
- ^ World Resources Institute fact sheet Are You Ready for the Lacey Act?
- Forest Certification Resource Center
- Forest Stewardship Council
- Sustainable Forestry Initiative
- PEFC International website — Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification
- Dovetail Partners Forest Certification: A Status Report (2010)
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