Today, a growing number of timber producers and traders are making environmental claims. Some are accurate, but others are misleading or exaggerated. How can you distinguish a genuine ecological forest product from one that has been "greenwashed"? The answer is credible, independent certification for forestry and forest products.
Forest certification is a voluntary process that ensures consumers that the wood products they buy were grown and harvested in a way that protects forests for the long term. Certifiers assess the on-the-ground forest practices of a given operation against a stringent set of environmental and social criteria. Operations that meet those standards may identify their products as originating from a well-managed source. The certifier also tracks the "chain of custody" of the certified wood to ensure that it is kept separate from non-certified material at each stage of processing and distribution from forest to end user.
The Forest Stewardship Council® is a not-for-profit organization that accredits certifiers whose programs conform to its internationally recognized Principles and Criteria, thereby providing a consistent and credible framework for independent certification efforts worldwide. The major FSC®-accredited certifying agencies in North America are SmartWood and Scientific Certification Systems.
FSC® certification enjoys the support of most major environmental groups, including World Wildlife Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Rainforest Alliance, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and World Resources Institute.
In order to be certified, a company must:
- Meet all applicable laws
- Have legally established rights to harvest
- Respect indigenous rights
- Maintain community well-being
- Conserve economic resources
- Protect biological diversity
- Have a written management plan
- Engage in regular monitoring
- Maintain high conservation value forests
- Manage plantations to alleviate pressures on natural forests
The success of FSC® certification has spawned competing initiatives, most of which were created and are backed by forest products industry trade groups that view FSC® certification as a threat to their business interests. For instance, the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) created the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) to certify the forest lands of all of its member companies (including the major US-based forest products companies such as Weyerhaeuser, International Paper, Louisiana Pacific, and Georgia Pacific) to a standard that is widely criticized as offering inadequate environmental protections and providing a green stamp to industrial forest practices like large-scale clear cuts (often at the expense of natural forest) and chemically-intensive monoculture tree-farming. For these reasons, the LEED rating system of the US Green Building council only offers credit for FSC®-certified wood products, and many major environmental groups support the FSC® while actively opposing the SFI and similar industry-based initiatives.
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