What Forest Sustainability Certification Should Forest Product Companies Pursue?

What Forest Sustainability Certification Should Forest Product Companies Pursue?

For North American forest product companies looking to supply the growing market for certified sustainable forest products, what sustainability certification is best? With several organizations offering multiple types of certifications, you may be unsure what certification or combination of certifications to pursue.

Below we clarify the major players in forest sustainability certification, the different certifications available, and which ones make the most sense to obtain.

What organizations certify forest sustainability in North America?

The major nonprofit organizations offering forest sustainability certifications in the North American market are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is another major certifying organization that initially focused on the European market but has since expanded internationally, including to Canada. SFI is the U.S.’s national member of PEFC.

Given that SFI’s certifying standards are recognized by PEFC, obtaining the SFI certification enables one to apply the PEFC on-product label and make PEFC claims, which may make selling those forest products overseas easier. Because of this, the only certifying organizations that North American forest product organizations need to focus on are FSC and SFI.

What sustainability certifications are available from FSC and SFI?

FSC and SFI each offer a Forest Management certification that confirms that a specific area of forest is being managed in line with the respective organization’s standards.

Each organization also offers its own chain-of-custody certification, and these certifications are especially relevant to organizations that procure wood and sell wood-derived products, including lumber, pellets, pulp, and paper.

Chain-of-custody certifications in effect verify that any wood product you’re supplying is ultimately from a certified source and that any intermediaries between the certified forest source and your acquisition of the material observed chain-of-custody standards (that is, they didn’t mix certified materials with non-certified materials).

FSC and SFI offer other certifications as well, including ones for controlled wood and fiber sourcing. The FSC controlled wood certification allows manufacturers to mix FSC-certified material with non-certified materials under controlled conditions. Resulting products may then be labeled with the FSC Mix label.

The SFI fiber sourcing certification governs how SFI‑certified organizations procure fiber from non-certified forestland and requires organizations to show that the fiber comes from legal and responsible sources. The separate SFI certified sourcing certification certifies that all fiber meets the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard, is recycled content, or comes from certified forests.

Which sustainability certifications should a forest product company obtain?

Regardless of whether you sell intermediary products, such as pulp, or finished products, such as packaging materials, you have an incentive to obtain a chain-of-custody certification because it allows you to participate in the certified sustainable forest product supply chain. Without it, you can still sell non-certified wood products, of course, but with it, you have an additional—and often more lucrative—revenue stream.

You can read more about the opportunities that certified suppliers enjoy in our e-book Supplying the Growing Market for Sustainable Forest Products: The Sustainability Certifications That Can Expand Your Market Opportunities.

Should forest product companies favor one certifying organization over another?

Forest product companies can benefit from obtaining both SFI and FSC chain-of-custody certifications. Many consumers and builders recognize and value both certification standards. For example, SFI-certified wood, just like FSC-certified wood, qualifies a builder for LEED points.

Although the general consensus is that FSC standards overall are more rigorous than SFI standards, the FSC and SFI chain-of-custody standards, in particular, are very similar.

How do you obtain a certification?

To obtain either certification, your company would undergo a third-party audit involving procedure and document reviews as well as staff interviews. In addition, after certification, both FSC and SFI require annual audits.

During the audits, forest product companies must be able to demonstrate 1) that their procured wood originates from forests that are certified as sustainably managed and 2) that the wood came to the company either directly or through other suppliers with a chain-of-custody certification. Your company will also need to set up a chain-of-custody management system.

One effective way to generate proof that your raw materials originate from certified forests is through software that geotags the exact origin/location of each load your loggers create. Legna’s Angel software has this capability and enables forest product companies to establish the proof and documentation that independent certification auditors need.

Moreover, your wood sourced from certified forests must be identified and tracked during the manufacturing and distribution processes. You would also need records documenting this tracking.

If you’d like to learn more about how Angel software can help your organization obtain a chain-of-custody certification from FSC and SFI, please contact us.

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