What are forest certification schemes?


Forest certification schemes aim to address concerns over the supply of wood by providing certification that products are sourced from a sustainable source.  There are more than 50 certification schemes worldwide but the two largest global schemes are the umbrella organisations, the FSC and the PEFC.  These are the labels most commonly seen by consumers looking for information on wood and paper products.

The concept of forest certification came about following concerns over rapid tropical deforestation in the 1980s and 1990s.  The timber trade is global and complex which can make it especially difficult to accurately trace.  Good certification utilises the ‘chain of custody’ approach that requires a paper trail from the forest to the final retailer to prove the timber has been sourced from an accredited forest.

FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council)

FSC was the world’s first forest certification scheme.  it was launched following the 1992 Earth Summit in conjunction with several environmental organisations including the WWF.  It is now the world’s second largest forest accreditation scheme, working in more than 50 countries.

Pros: Greenpeace, one of the most credible voices on forest protection, describes FSC as the “one credible certification scheme“. It is also approved by the WWF, the Woodland Trust and FERN.  There are even many certification schemes that only accept FSC as proof that the timber is sustainable. Cons: FSC doesn’t operate everywhere.

PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes)

PEFC is a global forest certification scheme that launched in 1999.  It acts as an umbrella organisation that accredits around 30 national certification schemes, making it the world’s largest timber certification scheme.

Pros: PEFC is the world’s largest timber certification scheme with more forest covered than any other. Cons: Greenpeace has repeatedly expressed concerns over PEFC practises including that it has relatively low standards, is dominated by the forestry industry and its association with questionable companies.

SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative)

The SFI is a forest certification scheme that operates in North America and was launched in 1998.

Pros: One of the strengths of the SFI is that it is contained within North America so this probably allows it to control it’s products better. Cons: Greenpeace has several criticisms of SFI certification so does not consider the scheme credible.

The future of timber certification

Globally it is estimated that only around 10% of forests are certified.  With continuing concerns over deforestation there is clearly good potential for timber certification schemes to expand and develop in the future.

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2 comments

  1. Hi there. Perhaps the “Con” that FSC does not operate everywhere is that it has concentrated on tweaking the screw of the already best practice machine of northern hemisphere forestry by a quarter of a notch at the time and not gone seriously enough to the tropics. Furthermore, in Europe 16 million small scale private family forest owners continue to express little interest in FSC, and they are the custodfians of a European wide heritage of multiple valued forestry, have been for generations. And saying PEFC is industry dominated is just lazy rhetoric bollocks. GP and other NGOs have a stake in FSC so they will naturally badmouth competition such as SFI, PEFC or others. On a system being “low”: you can have an FSC mixed sources logo on a product which actually contains less than 10% of FSC certified content. PEFC still maintains a minimum of 70%. Long live competition and choice.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I’m certainly no expert on these issues so it is interesting to hear your views. I will see if I can update the post with a more detailed analysis.

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