Forest certification is a type of "seal of approval" so consumers can feel confident that their wood and paper products come from forests managed in accordance with strict environmental and social standards.
Forest certification programs are your way of knowing that wood and paper products come from well-managed forests. Well managed forests are those overseen by professional foresters and other landowners who practice "sustainable forestry," meaning trees are harvested, replanted and regrown according to strict environmental standards and guidelines, put in place to help our forests (as well as habitat and surrounding environment) remain healthy and abundant for future generations.
For companies, landowners, and other organizations to get "certified," they must adhere to strict standards set by independent boards. Audits are conducted by third-party entities to confirm compliance with the certification program's guidelines and standards. These comprehensive principles, objectives and performance measures -- often developed by scientists, foresters, conservationists and other experts -- help protect soil, air, water, wildlife and trees.
Select a question below:
How do forest certification programs work?
Forest certification programs are similar to financial audit with third-party experts verifying a company's performance against a set of objective standards. The forestland audits are often conducted by highly qualified and accredited auditors and strive to be rigorous, on-the-ground assessments of an organization's operations.
The certification process depends on a variety of factors, from tree replanting (to help ensure forest regrowth) to "chain of custody" (the path taken by raw materials from forest source to consumer, including various stages of processing, manufacturing and distribution). The certifying organization considers whether the timber resources are sustainable, giving weight to the health of the entire forest ecosystem, which includes adequate wildlife habitat and watershed protection. This can lead to certification if all the qualifications are met.
What are the most popular forest certification programs?
There are many varying certification programs because of hte varied forest needs and interests. Forest certification programs continue to develop and evolve. In 1999, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC) was founded as the global umbrella organization for the assessment of and mutual recognition of national and international certification systems. (http://www.pefc.org/internet/html/index.htm)
In the United States today, there are three major forest certification programs in place: the Sustainable Foresty Initiative® (SFI) program, the Forest Stewardship Council© (FSC), and the American Tree Farm System:
The Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI) is a North America-focused system of principles and performance measures developed by foresters, conservationists and scientists that combines that growing and harvesting of trees with the long-term protection of wildlife, plants, soil and water quality. There are currently over 150 million acres of forestland in North America enrolled in the SFI program, making it among the world's largest sustainable forestry programs. In addition to certification, SFI provides landowner and professional tree harvester education, which promotes sustainable forest management, compliance with state best management practices and protection of endangered wildlife and forests on private lands. Thus far, SFI is the only U.S. certification program officially recognized by the PEFC. (http://www.aboutsfi.org)
The SFI program is fully independent, with a multi-stakeholder Board of Directors the sole governing body over the SFI standard and all aspects of the program. The SFI's Board representatives comprise environmental and conservation organizations, public officials, professional and academic groups, the forest products industry, independent logging professionals and forest landowners. According to SFI, "This balance ensures that the SFI Program protects the economic, environmental and social needs of our forests and communities."
The Forest Stewardship Council© (FSC) is another leading certification program and has applied its management standards in over 82 countries around the workd. As a stakeholder-owned system, FSC members represent social, economic, and environmental interests, setting standards based on principles addressing legal issues, indigenous rights, labor rights, multiple benefits, and environmental impacts surrounding forest management. The FSC, over the past 13 years, has certified over 222 million acres of forestland around the world in more than 82 countries.
The FSC describes itself as "an international association of members consisting of a diverse group of representatives from environmental and social groups, the timber trade and the forestry profession, indigenous people's organizations, responsible corporations, community forestry groups and forest product certification organizations from around the world." FSC operates through its network of National Initiatives in 43 countries. (http://www.fsc.org/en/)
The American Tree Farm System (ATFS) is the oldest voluntary, third-party forest management verification process in the country, having been around for 65 years. It certifies the forestry practices of family-owned and other non-industrial private landowners. Tree Farm certification encourages high standards for the nation's more than 10 million family and individual tree farms including producing renewable and sustainable crops of forest products while protecting the soil, water, range, aesthetic, recreation, wood, fish and wildlife resources. ATFS is administered through a network of Tree Farmers and private landowners, volunteer members of state and local committees and associations, national and state government agencies, inspecting foresters, forestry consultants, natural resource professionals and private industry. (http://www.treefarmsystem.org/)
Are there additional certification programs?
In addition to the three leading U.S. certification systems, other major forest certification systems include the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) with 175 million acres of certified land, the Australian Forestry Standard with 13 million acres of certified land, Certificatión Forestal (CertFor) in Chile with 3.8 million acres of certified land, and Certificação Florestal (CerFlor) in Brazil with 1.9 million acres of certified land enrolled. Green Tag, a small system in the United States and Canada with 69,160 acres of certified lands, is one of the many smaller, up-and-coming programs in the world. Several Canadian provincial small woodland owners associations have best practice standards as well, which are being considered for conversion into forest certification systems. in addition, the U.S. Forest Service is moving to at least a first party inspection approach for its entire National Forest System, which will include up to 190 million acres. (Virginia Forests, Winter 2007)
How many forests are certified? Where are they?
Certification of sustainable forests continues to increase every year worldwide. Largely developed as a means to encourage sustainable forestry in the tropics, forest certification has changed focus, with about 95 percent of the world's certified forest area today in the northern hemisphere. In the Americas, about 95 percent of the certified forests are in North America with only about five percent in Central and South America (Virginia Forests, Winter 2007). Today, the three main certification systems together certify more than 107 million acres in the United States, representing 14 percent of total U.S. forests. Some 25 percent of private U.S. forestland is now certified (State of Forestry in the United States, USDA Forest Service, March 2000).
Why is it important to buy products from certified forests?
Forests are a valuable natural, renewable resource. While providing the wood and paper products our families depend on, the forests provide valuable resources including habitat, recreation, and environmental rejuvenation we all will depend on far into the future. Therefore, while enjoying wood and paper products made from the forests' renewable resources, it is important to use those made from certified forests. These products are made by members of industry that ensure forests are managed to the highest possible environmental standards, with a commitment to reforestation and sustainable industry.
To be sustainable, a renewable resource must be renewed. When trees are harvested, they need to be replanted and allowed to grow. Each year about 1.4 billion tree seedlings are planted -- roughly 4 million a day (Tree Planters' Notes, USDA Forest Service, Vol. 49, No. 1 -- 1999). Of this total, the wood and paper products industry plants 1.7 million every day -- more than making up for those that are harvested (http://www.abousfi.org/). Due in large part to this reforestation commitment, the nation's forest inventory has grown by 39 percent over the past half century (US Forest Service, RPA Data 1987-2002).
How do I know if my products are certified? Where do I find certified products?
When buying wood or paper products, you may want to look for certification labels on products and packaging (seen below). When in doubt, ask for more information. For a list of certified products and locations, visit www.aboutsfi.org or www.fsc.org.
Do the certification programs have broad support from various groups?
All of the large certification programs, while under constant comparison, share the same goal: responsible, sustainable forest management. With interested parties supporting each of the certification programs, a broad support exists across all programs. SFI is a fully independent organization governed by the Sustainable Forestry Board, with representatives from environmental and conservation organizations, public officials, professional and academic groups, the forest products industry, independent logging professionals and forest landowners. SFI conservation partners include The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Habitat Council and The Wildlife Society.
FSC is an association open to members representing environmental and social groups, the timber trade and the forestry profession, indigenous people's organizations, responsible corporations, community forestry groups and forest product nongovernmental organizations (ENGOs) such as the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, the National Wildlife Federation and the Rainforest Action Network.
ATFS, meanwhile, is the world's oldest sustainable forestry and certification program. A Tree Farm sign hangs on one out of every ten forested acres in the United States, and ATFS has more than 4,400 volunteer inspecting foresters. Today, nearly 70,000 non-industrial, private landowners have about 28 million acres of forests enrolled in the ATFS. The number of family forest owners in the contiguous United States increased from 9.3 million in 1993 to 10.3 million in 2003 -- an 11% jump, with most of these family forest owners owning less than 10 acres of land (Journal of Forestry, Vol. 102, No. 7, October/November 2004).