Forest Certification, Part 1
The concept of "timber certification" emerged in the late 1980s after environmental groups--Friends of the Earth, World Wildlife Fund, and Greenpeace-lobbied the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) to implement an international labeling scheme for tropical timber.
ITTO conducted some studies on the topic, and continues to do so, but did not go beyond developing guidelines, criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. As a result, WWF, other environmental groups, and a few corporations such as the British home improvement chain B&Q, began work on the creation of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), whose founding assembly took place in 1993.
Especially noteworthy is the shift that took place at the time towards broadening the scope of certification schemes to include timber from all types of forests (tropical, temperate, boreal), following the North-South polarization of the international forest debate that occurred in the early 1990s. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, the international community failed to agree on the Global Forest Convention that was promoted by the G-VII and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Since then, governments have been engaged in a variety of activities, e.g. the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests, and initiatives such as the Montreal Process, through which criteria, indicators and reporting procedures for monitoring forest management at the national level have been developed. The US and Canada participate in the Montreal process, along with other countries holding temperate and boreal forests, such as New Zealand, Australia, the Russian Federation, China, Japan and Chile. With a few exceptions, however, governments to date have stayed out of the development of forest certification and product labeling.
Emergence of FSC and ISO 14001 in Forestry
Environmental groups and FSC focused for their part on monitoring forest management practices at the forest--or forest management unit--level. FSC became a legal entity in October 1995 and accredited four certifiers that actually audit forests and award certificates--Scientific Certification Systems and SmartWood in the US, and SGS-Forestry and the Soil Association in the UK. These certifiers had previously been active in the field of forest management auditing and had collaborated in the establishment of the FSC. They were subsequently joined by SKAL (from the Netherlands) and the "Institut für Marktökologie" (from Switzerland).
FSC-accredited certifiers work on the basis of general FSC principles and criteria, as well as national or regional standards, which have been or are being developed in a number of countries. The first national standard to be approved by FSC-International was the Swedish standard. There are eleven regional FSC standards in preparation in the US and four in Canada. FSC has also developed guidelines regarding the "group certification" of small landholdings.
The FSC initiative took impetus thanks to the World Wildlife Fund and other environmental groups which managed to rally the support of key users of forest products, particularly in the UK, the Netherlands and Germany, through the establishment of "buyers groups" of FSC certified forest products. There are now 15 buyers groups throughout the world, chiefly in Europe ("1995+Group" in the UK, "Gruppe98" in Germany, etc.) and in North America (Certified Forest Products Council--CFPC, based in Beaverton, Oregon).
While environmental groups were saying in the 1980s "don't buy tropical timber; buy temperate and boreal timber", their current message can now be summarized as follows: "buy certified timber to have a 'clear conscience' and to make sure you do not contribute to the destruction of the world's forests."
The FSC initiative has received considerable support from environmental organizations and some segments of the timber and paper industry. In Europe, a key development has been the support given FSC by the Swedish pulp and paper industry. In just three years, Europe's largest industrial forest owners, such as AssiDomän, STORA, SCA and Körsnas, have indeed brought more than eight million hectares of their forests under FSC certification.
In Canada, while a few operations have now been certified, most FSC certificates are expected to be sought in British Columbia, where the timber and paper industry has been affected for years by boycott campaigns against "old-growth wood" by groups such as the Coastal Rainforest Coalition.
In the US, state forests in Pennsylvania and Minnesota represent a large proportion of FSC-certified areas. Regarding US federal forests, there is currently a voluntary moratorium on their certification by FSC-US because of strong reservations by the US Forest Service and some environmental groups. On the retail side, it is important to note the recent membership of Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement chain, in the North American buyers group Certified Forest Products Council. By joining CFPC, Home Depot pledged to secure an increasing amount of certified forest products.
In total, 16 million hectares, or just 0.5 percent of the world's forests, have been certified under FSC, and 75 percent of that is located in three countries: Sweden, Poland and the United States.
As a reaction to the FSC initiative, the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association (CPPA), in collaboration with other forest industry associations, proposed in 1994 to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to develop an international forestry standard. The recommendation was not adopted. Instead, ISO developed the report ISO/TR 1406--"Information to assist forestry organizations in the use of ISO 14001 and ISO 14004 Environmental Management System Standards."
ISO 14001 is a specification document that can be used for auditing and certification purposes. Three commitments must be made in the framework of ISO 14001: complying with laws and regulations, continuous improvement, and prevention of pollution. The standard requires the implementation of an environmental management system. The forestry organization implementing ISO 14001 can request a third party audit. Contrary to FSC, performance objectives are not set by the standard but are defined by the forestry organization. Under ISO, certification claims are strictly regulated. In particular, green claims through labels, referring to an ISO 14001 certification, are not permitted.
A significant number of major corporations in countries such as Sweden, Finland, Canada and the US have adopted ISO 14001, sometimes in conjunction with other systems. In Canada alone, a recent CPPA survey predicts that 69 million hectares will be brought under ISO-14001 certification by 2003.
Two North American ISO-Based Schemes: CSA and SFIS
While FSC and ISO are available internationally, there is a trend toward the development of national and regional forest certification systems. In North America, two key initiatives are based on the ISO 14000 series. In Canada, after two years of preparation, the first national certification scheme was approved in 1996 under the auspices of the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).
The CSA standard is based on the ISO 14000 series. The performance criteria are based on the sustainable forest management criteria defined by the Canadian Council of Forestry Ministers, which are closely related to the criteria and indicators developed through the Montreal Process. Another important characteristic of the CSA system is public participation.
The first successful audit under the CSA Sustainable Forest Management Standard was achieved last April by MacMillan Bloedel for its North Island Woodlands division on Vancouver Island. The CPPA survey referred to above suggests that a number of companies are seeking ISO 14001 certification, as a first step towards the more demanding CSA standard.
In the US, the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) adopted in November 1998 a "Voluntary Verification Process" in the framework of its Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). SFI is an industry-wide effort by AF&PA aimed at improving forest practices on industrial forestlands. SFI is based on a set of principles, guidelines and performance measures. An Independent Review Panel oversees the initiative and publishes an annual report on progress made under the program. Participation in SFI is obligatory for AF&PA members. The area covered by the SFI is approximately 54 million acres.
Voluntary Verification Principles and Procedures were recently developed under the SFI Standard on the basis of the ISO series of Standards for environmental auditing, now adopted as American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standards for the United States. Qualification criteria for verifiers and voluntary verification indicators were also developed. SFIS does not offer a labeling system for forest products. Under SFIS, companies must demonstrate continuous improvement in meeting SFI's forest management objectives. Although not compulsory, corporations adopting SFIS can seek third party verification. Several major corporations, such as Plum Creek, Mead Corporation, Consolidated Papers and Champion International, have announced their intention to seek verification under SFIS.
Certification Initiatives for Non-Industrial Forest Owners
Apart from FSC and ISO, there is a range of other forest certification initiatives throughout the world. While there are important initiatives in tropical countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, which together account for over 80 percent of the world's tropical timber exports, attention is given here to certification initiatives tailored to the needs of small non-industrial forest owners, particularly in North America and in Europe.
In the US, efforts were recently made to modernize the American Tree Farm System, founded in 1941. The program targets non-industrial forest owners in the US, who number 9.9 million and own 58 percent of the nation’s productive forests. Modernized documents--"Standards, Guidelines and Performance Measures for Member Certification," and "Program Policies, Procedures and Performance Measures"--were approved in 1998.
To qualify as a Tree Farmer, landowners must have at least ten contiguous acres of forest land, and actively follow a written forest management plan that addresses how they will provide for wildlife, recreation, and water and soil conservation while producing renewable forestry products. Tree farm inspectors are volunteers and certification under the Tree Farm program is free. Some 70,000 individuals and families participate in the program.
Green Tag Forestry (GT) is another US-based program that is specifically designed for non-industrial private forest owners. The National Forestry Association, the Association of Consulting Foresters and the National Woodland Owners Association support the program. There are 10 criteria against which forests are evaluated. Audits are conducted by specially trained consulting foresters. To date, 17,000 acres have been certified under Green Tag Forestry in six states. Although available, the chain of custody option under Green Tag Forestry has not yet been used.
In Europe, where there are 12 million non-industrial forest holdings, forest owners and industry organizations from 17 countries have joined to develop the Pan European Forest Certification (PEFC) process. PEFC is based on the criteria and indicators developed under the Helsinki Process and requires third party audits. The initiative, which was launched earlier this year, intends to bring into the market forest products with a common logo, which will provide an alternative to the FSC trademark in the European market.
Most national certification initiatives under PEFC are expected to take a regional approach as a means to address the issue of high fragmentation of forest ownership that prevails in Europe. Under this regional approach, all forest holdings from a particular region (e.g. a Länder in Germany; a Department in France) would be covered under the same certificate. Several initiatives under PEFC--for example in Sweden and Norway--are based on ISO. Finland is in the lead among PEFC participants, as it intends to have more than 10 million hectares of forest audited by the end of this year under its Finnish Forest Certification System. A critical characteristic of PEFC is that it provides a framework for mutual recognition of national forest certification programs, which might actually be extended outside Europe.
Jean-Pierre Kiekens is director of the Montreal-based Sustainable Forestry & Certification Watch (SFCW), a nonprofit organization aimed at improving understanding of forest certification and its implications, particularly for sustainable forest management, international forest policy, trade, and consumer choice. Mr. Kiekens edits Forest Certification Watch, a newsletter that analyzes forest certification and timber labeling trends and developments worldwide. He can be reached at 514-273-5777, or by e-mail at email@example.com. SFCW also maintains a website at www.sfcw.org.
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