The following appeared in the June 2003, Vol. 80 issue of Woodwork by editor John Lavine and is used with permission.
A Brief History of Certification
An international coalition of environmental, economic and social groups created the Forest Stewardship Council in 1993 to give consumers a credible means of identifying wood products from well-managed forestry operations. Underlying this goal is the recognition that forests are critical for wildlife habitat, clean air and water, recreation, and timber supplies. To date, FSC-accredited certifiers have certified over 8 million acres in the United States and 60 million acres globally.
The American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), an industry trade group, launched the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) in 1994 in response to both the FSC and low public opinion about environmentally-destructive practices of the forest products industry, such as large-scale clearcutting. The SFI program was designed to improve forestry practices quickly and broadly across the U.S. forest products industry. Since adding a formal certification program in 2000, SFI has certified over 30 million acres in the United States and Canada. AF&PA expects 78 million acres to be SFI certified by the end of this year. This would include most lands managed by major U.S. timber producers.
Since the introduction of SFI, there has been a wide-ranging public debate. A main focus has been criticism by environmental groups that SFI has very weak standards and is an attempt by industry to undermine consumer demand for FSC-certified products, co-opt the certification message, and “greenwash” the forest products market.
The Home Depot, FSC, and SFI commissioned the Meridian Institute to create a report that objectively describes the similarities and differences between the two certification systems. Although the consensus report, released in mid-October of 2002, draws no conclusions about which certification system is better, it notes substantial differences between them. Environmentalists say those differences go to the very core of what forest certification is all about. The Meridian study shows that SFI does not include many of FSC’s forest management and conservation standards or any of its social standards. It also shows that FSC has more rigorous procedures for controlling certifications and for public accountability. For example, only FSC:
• Promotes exemplary forest management
• Explicitly requires compliance with all applicable laws and regulations
• Clearly prescribes protection for rare, threatened, and endangered species
• Includes protections for old growth and “high conservation value” forests
• Explicitly and comprehensively prescribes the maintenance of natural features and ecological functions in managed forests and plantation systems
• Prohibits conversion of diverse natural forests to ecologically simplified tree plantations
• Requires reductions in the use of chemicals (i.e., herbicides and pesticides)
• Prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms
• Addresses social impacts of harvesting operations on local communities, workers, and indigenous peoples
• Requires annual audits by independent, third-party assessors to assure field compliance with standards
• Requires “chain of custody” tracking of wood from forests through manufacturing (This ensures that products bearing the FSC logo actually originated in FSC-certified forests)
• Requires public consultation for each certification and a detailed public report
• Is formally governed by a balance of environmental, social, and economic interests
The Meridian study notes that oversight of the SFI program rests with the AF&PA board of directors, its U.S. member companies, and its appointed Sustainable Forestry Board. AF&PA provides most of SFI’s budget, as well as staff to support the program. In contrast, the FSC is an independent membership organization representing a balance of environmental, social, and economic interests in the United States and abroad. Charitable foundations provide most of FSC’s budget, and FSC maintains its own staff.
Environmentalists say the Meridian report findings justify continued purchasing preferences for FSC-certified products by those who are concerned about improving global forest management because AF&PA’s SFI provides a much lower baseline for performance, which can be met quickly by most U.S. forestry companies. Even strict interpretation permits average clearcuts of 120 acres, and some clearcuts can be bigger, as long as they are offset by smaller clearcuts. SFI has certified forestry operations of companies such as Pacific Lumber, which is responsible for clearcutting old growth redwood forests in California. If these operations meet SFI standards, environmentalists ask, what wouldn’t?
The complete text of the Meridian report is available on the Meridian website at The Meridian Institute . They have changed there home page and the report is hard to find.
John Lavine, editor Woodwork@rossperiodicals.com