Forest certification promotes a code of conduct for timber managers to demonstrate some level of environmental and community stewardship. Responding to concern about deforestation, particularly in the tropics, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) began third party certification audits in 1995. Numerous organizations have since joined the effort. The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is now the largest such organization. It is an umbrella organization that endorses about 35 national systems with more than 240 million hectares (600 million acres) of certified forest land; about two-thirds of all certified forests. Interestingly, though tropical deforestation was the impetus, and tropical forests make up nearly half of global forest coverage, less than one percent of tropical forests have been certified.
A Stamp of Forest Approval
Deforestation has been a concern as far back as the late 1800s. The National Forests were designated to prevent forest famine in the United States. Forests were a cornerstone for developing the west by providing timber for energy and building materials.
The fear of deforestation remains with us today at both the national and global level. More than just a resource for extractive use, standing forests offer a diversity of wildlife habitat, they help keep water and air clean, and they are places for refuge and recreation.
Globally, forests cover nearly four billion hectares. More than half of those are tropical and subtropical forests in developing countries. These countries tend to have less secure property rights, high poverty, and more sustenance living. It is no surprise then, that the tropics are also the area of greatest concern for deforestation.
Changing how people steward the forests can be addressed in several ways.
- The stick: National or state policy can be adjusted. The US government, for example, designated the national forests and sets the management policy. At the state level, governments continue to alter forest management by adjusting forest regulations.
- Moral suasion: Organizations can inform people through education campaigns and rally sometimes more persuasive efforts such as boycotts.
- The carrot: Market instruments can be created to influence decisions. In the case of forest stewardship, certification and eco-labeling.
The goal of forest certification is to ensure sustainable timber for forest products, while also managing for biodiversity and community stability. Forest certification is a bottom up approach; it is a voluntary action by forest land owners to allow third party inspection that verifies stewardship.
Though forest certification is a market process it is not driven by end consumers. Rarely will customers pay a premium price for final product sale. Instead, timber producers pay the certification costs. The demand is largely retail driven. Pressured by environmental non-governmental organizations (the Forest Stewardship Council was “spearheaded” by the World Wildlife Fund), large wood product retailers, such as Home Depot and Lowes, supply certified forest products to maintain a green image.
Similarly, in 2004, Time, Inc. announced a commitment to using ‘responsible’ paper. By the end of the following year 80 percent of the paper purchased for publishing was required to have certified or recycled content.
The quantity of certified forest area has increased since the first audits began in 1995. Presently, the majority of certified products are grown in boreal and temperate forests of developed countries. Certification has enhanced environmental stewardship in those areas. It has improved producer accountability and the transparency of those that partake. It is likely, however, that more secure property rights and a better rule of law will be necessary for a significant increase in forest certification in developing countries.
This Charticle and blog has been cross-posted at http://www.environmentaltrends.org/single/article/forest-code.html