‘Normal’ market forces do not provide
incentives to produce timber in an environmentally and socially
sustainable way. Producers seek to keep their costs to a minimum–which
usually privileges a short-term perspective in planning and management–in
order to maximize their profits.
As consumers become more aware of environmental
issues and the danger of deforestation, they are also becoming more
willing to pay a higher price for timber and wood products which
have been produced sustainably.
‘Certified’ timber is timber which comes
from forests that have been certified by an independent auditor
as meeting certain environmental, economic, and social standards.
The auditors monitor production, harvest, transport and processing
and issue a recognized label so that consumers can make an informed
choice to purchase wood products that are produced by ecologically
sound practices. A credible and independently audited certification
system creates economic incentives for the producers of timber and
wood products to adopt these practices.
The most widely recognized certification system
today is managed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), established
in 1993 and based in Oaxaca, Mexico.
To read the FSC Principles and Criteria, visit:
The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) supports certification
on the grounds that:
"… whilst the forest industry often plays
a key role in forest destruction and degradation, logging need not
destroy forests. If timber is removed in an environmentally sensitive
way that mimics the natural dynamics of a forest, there may be little
The Natural Resources Defence Council in the USA
has prepared a summary of the rationale for forest certification:
- What is forest certification?
"Forest certification is a means of protecting forests by
promoting environmentally responsible forestry practices. Forests
are evaluated according to international standards and certified
as well managed by a qualified independent auditor (or certifier).
Wood or wood products from those forests are then labeled so that
consumers can identify them."
- How will certification help protect our
"Consumer demand for certified forest products will be a powerful
incentive for forest managers to adopt more ecologically sound
practices, and for retailers and manufacturers to seek out wood
from certified forests. In combination with other strategies,
including more efficient wood use and the designation of forest
reserves, certification is a vital part of protecting our forest
- What is the definition of a well-managed
" A well-managed forest satisfies standards of environmentally,
socially and economically sound management. These standards ensure
the long-term health and productivity of forests for timber production,
wildlife habitat and water quality protection while also providing
social benefits such as lasting community employment."
There has been rapid acceptance of the concept of
forest certification. As of January 2003, FSC had awarded 466 Forest
Management Certificates in 56 countries, covering a total certified
area of 310,672
km². The FSC website gives regular updates of the expansion
of its program. To read the FSC Principles and Criteria, visit:
The success of FSC has led to the creation of other
certification systems. The Pan-European Forest Certification Council
(PEFC) is a scheme launched in 1999, while in North America the
Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) scheme also competes with
the FSC scheme. Despite attempts to develop mutually recognized
criteria for certification schemes, the PEFCS and SFI are based
on monitoring of forest management practices by the forest and wood
products industry itself rather than on independent third party
auditing. This key difference has so far prevented mutual recognition
of these schemes.
In the United States, the Meridian Institute has
prepared a report comparing the FSC and SFI schemes. The report
emphasizes that the key difference between the two schemes is the
independent auditing process at the heart of the FSC scheme. A summary
of the report can be downloaded from:
The Environmental News Network (ENN) has prepared
a summary of the history of the FSC certification process and a
brief comparison of the key differences between FSC and the PEFC
"The World Wide Fund for Nature was instrumental
in founding (FSC) in 1993. The initial meetings took in representatives
from environmental and conservation groups, the timber industry,
the forestry profession, indigenous peoples' organizations, community
forestry groups and forest product certification organizations from
The FSC accredits certification bodies that in turn
certify forests that meet FSC principles and criteria and other
specific standards identified at the national and regional levels.
Landowners approved as abiding by FSC standards
such as protection of biological diversity, conservation of the
forest's economic resources and respect for the rights of indigenous
peoples may advertise their wood as certified by using the FSC logo.
The concept relies on the assumption that informed
consumers who care about environmental protection will trust the
certification agency and be willing to make purchases of products
that carry the label of that agency.
The FSC is growing quickly. The global timber industry’s
acceptance of certified wood that meets the Forest Stewardship Council’s
standards exploded during the first two months of 2001. In January
and February, FSC-accredited certification bodies brought 331 new
companies into its program, a 30 percent growth in two months.
There is a competing forest certification group.
In 1999, European forest industry organizations launched their own
certification system for sustainably produced timber. The Pan-European
Forest Certification Scheme is a voluntary private sector initiative
that originated with small forest owners in European countries.
With members in 15 countries, PEFC differs from
the FSC in that it provides a framework for mutual recognition of
national forest certification schemes rather than accrediting certifying
Information about PEFC can be obtained from its web site at:
While PEFC is funded by the forest industry, the
FSC is funded by charitable foundations, government donors, membership
subscriptions and accreditation fees. To ensure its independence,
the FSC does not accept funding from industry.
An International Forest Industries Roundtable proposal
for enabling mutual recognition between different forest certification
schemes was not approved by the environmental groups that back the
Forest Stewardship Council. They believe the council can provide
whatever certification is needed by the world's environmentally
conscious consumers of wood products."
Other references on certification:
The European Forestry Institute provides background
information about certification at:
A table comparing the major certification programs
in the USA is at:
A US-based ‘clearing house’ for information
on certification carries a regularly updated selection of analytical
papers on the subject: