Forest Certification

Have you ever seen the initials SFI or FSC on a product and wondered what it meant? These symbols signify a forest product such as paper, lumber, wood fiber, etc. that came from a certified forest. Forest Certification was developed in the early 1990s to recognize well-managed forest land. There are two main certification entities in the United States, the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Both of these groups offer third-party certification, meaning that certification is the result of on-the-ground evaluation of forest management conducted by an accredited certificating organization based on internationally recognized principles and criteria with locally developed and approved standards. When the certifying organization inspects a property, it looks at three main criteria: environmental, social and economic.

FSC certificationCredit:
SFI certificationCredit: - Mike Kay

In the case of FSC Certification, a forest must demonstrate protection and maintenance of natural communities and high conservation forests, the environmental aspect. The property must have an active management plan and management must follow accepted criteria. The operation must respect the rights of workers, communities and indigenous people, the social aspect. It must contribute to building markets, adding best value and have equitable access to benefits, the economic aspect. Once a forest becomes certified, it is subject to annual audits to ensure that it still meets the standards of the program. In 2004, Gov. Martin O’Malley issued an executive order stating that all of Maryland’s state forests must achieve and maintain dual certification through SFI and FSC; by 2010, all of the nearly 110,000 acres of state forest lands had achieved dual certification from both SFI and FSC. Forest products coming from a certified forest are given an eco-label that usually has SFI or FSC inscribed on it. The product is tracked through a chain of custody so that, for example, logs being harvested from a certified forest made into wood, paper, boxes, furniture, etc. will have these symbols inscribed on the products.

Forest certification is viewed by many as a desirable outcome. Some of the advantages of certification include improving the image of the company, agency, or landowner that maintains this certification. Maintaining credibility in that certification demonstrates the forest is being managed in an environmentally sensitive manner as determined by an outside party. Certification also may enable the seller of forest products to reap a price premium versus forest products arising from a non-certified source. Also, some corporations only wish to use wood products from certified sources, so having this certification many result in increased market access. Finally, when the consumer purchases a certified product, they know that they are using wood products from a sustainable, well-managed forest that takes into consideration environmental, social and economic criteria.

Nature Notes for 9/29/2013