Understanding forest certification
Forest certification is a system for identifying forestland that is well
managed with a goal toward sustainability.
In this context, sustainability includes ecological, economic, and
social components. Products from certified
forestlands are identified by a special label.
Forest certification was conceived of as a way to promote sustainable
forest production. It allows landowners tolet customers know how they
manage their forest. It also may function as a marketbased mechanism to
reward superior forest management
Although there are other types of forest certification, this publication
deals only with third-party certification.
Third-party certification is an on-the-ground evaluation of forest
management conducted by an accredited
certifying organization and based on accepted standards. It is similar
to a financial audit of a corporation.
Forest certification is a growing trend. Environmental organizations
and a few companies have driven the
movement toward certification.
Recently, companies from all over the world, including Oregon, have
become involved. Currently,
approximately 80,000 acres of forestland are certified in Oregon.
Who oversees the certification process? The Forest Stewardship Council
(FSC) is a nongovernmental,
intentional organization that accredits third-party certifies and
facilitates development of forest management
standards. It was founded in 1993 "to promote environmentally
responsible, socially beneficial, and
economically viable management of the worlds forests. The FSC
currently runs the only internationally active
third-party certification system.
How are forest management standards developed? The FSC created a set of
10 principles and criteria covering
topics such as management planning, plantation management, and
environmental impact. FSC-designated
agencies organize stakeholder groups to create regional standards
following these principles and criteria. It is up to the FSC to assure
consistency among standards and to approve standards.
In our region, the Pacific Forest Trust in California coordinates
standard development. As of April 1998, the
standard was in its fourth draft. The standards development process has
been held up while FSC deals with
issues surrounding certification of public lands and primary forests.
Once these issues are dealt with, the
standard may be developed further or may be submitted to FSC for
approval as is.
Who are the certifiers? In the United States, there are two FSC
accredited certifiers. Scientific Certification Systems is located in
Oakland, California and has a background in environmental
certification. SmartWood, the worlds first forest certifier, is
headquartered in New York, but has regional affiliates that perform
certifications. The Rogue Institute for Ecology and Economy in Ashland
is SmartWood's affiliate in Oregon.
What happens in a certification? In a forest certification, an
interdisciplinary team of experts conducts an
on-the-ground evaluation of the forest, assesses the management plan,
and interviews people familiar with the
operation. The assessment looks at ecological, economic, and social
aspects of the operation.
Practices such as clearcutting and herbicide application may be allowed
when justified by site conditions and the management plan. Retention of
snags and down woody debris are examples of activities that are
Certified operations are audited each year to maintain their
What is an ecolabel? An ecolabel is an on-product label that indicates
the product comes from a certified forest. The FSC encourages exclusive
use of its label to present a consistent message to consumers.
What is chain-of-custody? To carry an ecolabel, a product must have
documentation proving it comes from a
certified forest. This paper trail is called the chain-of-custody.
Chain-of-custody certification involves
evaluating the raw material transformation process to ensure that
certified materials are properly tracked and
kept separate from noncertified materials.
What are percentage-based claims? A percentage-based claim allows a
product to carry the FSC ecolabel even if
it is not made totally from certified fiber. Current rules allow a
product with 70 percent certified and 30 percent
noncertified fiber to be labeled. A variety of combinations with
recycled fiber also are allowed.
Is there demand for certified products? Currently, there is not much
demand from final consumers. Most
demand is from industrial and retail companies.
In Europe, companies are joining groups committed to buying only
certified forest products, The most
developed of these groups operates in the United Kingdom. It consists
of about 85 companies and represents
around 15 percent of the country's wood products demand.
In the United States, members of the recently formed Certified Forest
Products Council are committed to buying
certified products. This group is headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon.
Why should I care? Whether you are a landowner or a manufacturer,
forest certification eventually may affect
you. An increasing number of landowners and manufacturers are looking
at certification as a potential
Advantages of certification:
Because certification is so new, information concerning its benefits is
limited. The following summarizes what currently is known.
Image: For some companies, such as Collins Pine of Portland,
certification has had a positive effect on
company image. As one of the first United States companies to certify
its forestland, it received national media attention and received a
Presidential Award for Sustainability.
Credibility: Certification can improve credibility. Certified
landowners are seen as partners by environmental groups rather than as
adversaries. In fact, many landowners have embraced certification as a
way to reduce the controversy surrounding forest management.
Certification validates forest stewardship and is used to defend
management practices and assure continued management options.
Premiums: Initially, supporters of certification claimed consumers would
pay more for "environmentally
preferable" products. A number of studies have concluded that a segment
of the population will pay more for
certified forest products, but, so far, companies have had little
success in targeting this elusive consumer
segment. There are examples of premiums being paid in
company-to-company or landowner-to-company
transactions, but they are not the norm.
Market access: This area may be certification's greatest potential
benefit. Certified landowners and
manufacturers often find themselves selling to totally new markets. One
Midwestern company filled a small
order of certified product to a new customer several years ago and now
is its sole supplier. Although most of the new volume is not certified,
the total account is worth more than $7 million.
Certification may improve market access for small woodland owners in the
future, although opportunities will
vary regionally. Only a few Oregon manufacturers are producing
certified products. As this number increases,
so will opportunities for small woodland owners.
Disadvantages of certification:
Certification has some potential negatives as well.
Cost. First, there is the direct cost of certification. This cost
ranges from less than 500 per acre to several dollars per acre depending
on factors such as size and location of the property. Annual audits
cost from less than 50 to more than 200 per acre.
One way certifiers try to make certification feasible for small woodland
owners is by certifying a forestry
consultant or land manager. All lands managed by that individual then
are considered certified. In this case, there is no direct cost to the
landowner unless the certified manager passes on the cost of
The second cost of certification is the indirect cost of changing
management practices, if necessary, to become certified. Most currently
certified landowners were required to make few major changes in their
management practices to become certified. Consequently, little
information exists regarding these costs.
Limited demand: There is some demand for certified products in the
United States, but it isn't a large part of the market. Since most
demand doesn't come from final consumers, it is difficult to predict how
the-s market will develop. If consumers begin to recognize and prefer
certified products, demand will grow quickly.
Chain-of-custody: Chain-of-custody often is seen as a significant
challenge and cost, especially by operations such as paper mills that
have hundreds of suppliers and use continuous processing, which makes it
difficult to keep certified fiber separate from noncertified fiber.
However, for many operations, the challenges may be surmountable.
Chain-of-custody certification primarily
uses existing inventory control systems to assure segregation of
certified and noncertified material. The direct cost of certification
typically is less than $3,000. Again, little is known about the
indirect costs of potential changes in production practices.
Evolving system: The FSC is young and developing. Consequently, there
are many uncertainties and unresolved
issues. This uncertainty discourages many companies and landowners from
becoming involved. More
conservative operators are waiting to see how certification develops
before deciding how to react..
Possibly the most important outstanding issue is development of regional
standards. Until standards are
finalized and approved by the FSC, uncertainty will remain.
It still is unclear how certification will develop or the impact it may
have on markets. To date, its impact has been modest. However, it is
developing quickly in Oregon and the rest of the world. Those already
certified have benefited, but the potential payoff for small woodland
owners is less clear. Regardless of your opinion of certification, it
is important to follow its development.
Contacts for more information:
OSU Forest Products Department
Eric Hansen 541-737-4240
hansenen at frl.orst.edu
Oregon Department of Forestry
Dave Steer 503-945-7413
Forest Stewardship Council
Jamison Ervin 802-244-6257
Rogue Institute of Ecology and Economy , Steve Gretzinger 541-482-6031
Scientific Certification Systems
Debbie Hammel 510-832-1415
Certified Forest Products Council David Ford 503-590-6600
Eric Hansen, forest products marketing specialist, Oregon State
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Published February 1998. Revised May 1998.
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