Certification Today: If a Tree Falls in a Forest and it’s not Certified…

Spend Matters would like to welcome a guest post from Dr. Patrick Moore, Chief Scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd, and a co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace industry and government adviser. He recently authored the book, "Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist."

There are essentially two major independent, third-party forest certification standards available globally: the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The PEFC is an umbrella for many national forest certification standards, including those from the US, Canada, Malaysia, Gabon, and Finland -- to name just a few. According to the United Nations, the PEFC accounted for most of the forest area certified worldwide, with "slightly less than two thirds (64.2 percent) of the area certified globally" or 507 million acres (205 million hectares). This compares with FSC's certification of 257 million acres (104 million hectares).

From 2000 to 2008 the area of forest independently certified globally grew from 112 million acres (45 million hectares) to 791 million acres (320 million hectares). This is a substantial increase over eight years, yet this gain still means that only about 8.3 percent of the world's commercial forest area is independently certified as well as managed. Furthermore, the growth in certification has been made primarily in the forests of the developed countries of North America and Western Europe. Canada alone has 40 percent of the world's certified forest area, with almost 353 million acres (143 million hectares).

According to the United Nations, only 0.5 percent of the vast African and Asian forests and only 1.6 percent of forests in Latin America are certified. There are many reasons why sub-tropical and tropical forests have had difficulty obtaining certification. Forest certification is quite costly. Some of these forests (although by no means all) may be badly managed and would require substantial investment to bring them in line with forests in North America and Western Europe. Since consumers refuse to pay a price premium for certified wood products, there may be little incentive for sub-tropical and tropical producers to invest in certification.

Additionally, when producers such as Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), the largest pulp and paper producer in Asia outside Japan, take a leadership role in certification, they are often discouraged by the seemingly biased and arbitrary treatment they receive from forest certifiers, in this case, the FSC. An article in the Wall Street Journal in 2007 prompted the FSC to revoke APP's certificate, even though APP had complied with all requirements and received its FSC certification from independent auditor SGS. SGS told the Journal that FSC's behavior would likely make other producers in the tropics wary of pursuing the certification standard, and was quoted as saying that this "will surely drive away most of the big players in tropical forestry." Despite its setback with FSC, APP is aggressively certifying its plantation forests through a range of independent, third-party standards including Indonesia's rigorous national standard, Lembaga Ekolabel Indonesia (LEI). APP currently has the largest LEI certified plantation in Indonesia.

As countries such as Indonesia, China, India, and Brazil gain wealth, it is likely that more of their forest area will come under one or more forest certification regimes. One hopes that the coming decade will see further advances in forest certification throughout the world. And one hopes that certification standards like the FSC will begin to take a more balanced and transparent approach in interactions with the major tropical forest companies.

- Dr. Patrick Moore, Greenspirit Technologies, Ltd

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