Forest certification is a voluntary process used by forestry organisations to reassure consumers that the wood and wood products they buy come from sustainably managed forests. Certification independently assesses forest management planning and practices against a sustainable forestry management standard which has higher requirements than Ireland’s strict regulatory requirements.
ORIGINS OF CERTIFICATION
Forest certification arose out of the need to control the destruction of the world’s forest resources, particularly in tropical areas. Despite several international initiatives to curb this destruction these were largely ineffective and it was only at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janerio in 1992 that real progress was made. Environmental NGOs, along with many government organisations, pushed strongly for international agreements and legislation to tackle the problem of deforestation and forest degradation. Arising from Rio were a number of non-legally binding Forest Principles and an agenda (Agenda 21) which set out action programmes for sustainable development for the next century. Following on from Rio the concept of Sustainable Forest Management was developed and forest certification schemes were devised to assess the sustainability of forest management according to agreed standards; also chain-of-custody procedures were established to track timber from the forest to the end user.
Today, forest certification has become widely accepted as being a necessary requirement for forest owners, not only to demonstrate responsible forest management but also, to gain access to markets that are increasingly demanding certified timber.
FOREST CERTIFICATION SCHEMES IN IRELAND
Two international forest certification schemes are currently operating in Ireland – the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) scheme and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC). Both schemes work throughout the entire forest supply chain to promote good practice in the forest and to ensure that timber and non-timber forest products are produced with respect for the highest ecological, social and ethical standards. Through their ecolabels, customers and consumers are able to identify products from sustainably managed forests.
The schemes are entirely voluntary and have no statutory basis. A forest owner/manager may choose to participate or not in either of the schemes; but there is an advantage in having a forest certified, as it allows the timber to be sold into markets that are increasingly demanding certified timber.
Both Schemes have their champions. The FSC Scheme is largelydriven by environmental NGOs while the PEFC Scheme is the forest industry’s response to sustainable forest management. Despite early assertions that the PEFC Scheme was less demanding than the FSC Scheme there is now mutual recognition of their standards. Likewise, the markets and consumers recognise the credibility of the PEFC and timber certified to its standards is accepted as coming from responsibly managed forests.
While the Forest Service recognise the existence and worthiness of the FSC and PEFC Schemes they are considered market mechanisms and therefore, play no part in the official confirmation that SFM is being practiced. This is officially done through the Forest Service inspections and audits.
The FSC was one of the pioneering organisations in the development of forest certification. First introduced into Ireland in 1999, the FSC scheme is regarded by environmentalists as the most credible and demanding of the forest certification schemes. Considerable controversy, however, has surrounded the development of the FSC forestry standard for Ireland and after a decade or more of discussions, argument and compromise an agreed standard was finally been reached.
Coillte was the first forestry organisation in Ireland to receive FSC certification in 2001 for the state forests, while SWS was the first group scheme of private forests certified in 2003.
Further information on the FSC Scheme in Ireland is available at:
PEFC is an umbrella organisation that endorses national forest certification systems developed through multi-stakeholder processes and tailored to local priorities and conditions. Each national forest certification system undergoes rigorous third-party assessment against PEFC’s Sustainability Benchmarks to ensure consistency with international requirements. With about 30 endorsed national certification systems and more than 230 million hectares of certified forests, PEFC is the world’s largest forest certification system. While the PEFC Scheme is applicable to any forestry organisation it is generally regarded as the certification system of choice for small, non-industrial private forests, with hundreds of thousands of family forest owners certified todate.
PEFC Ireland was formed in 2008. A Standard Setting Forum and Technical Working Group each comprising representatives from economic, environmental and social interests developed the PEFC Forestry Standard for Ireland. This was endorsed by PEFC International in March 2012 and is now available as a tool for auditing forests for PEFC certification.
Currently there are three forestry standards operating in Ireland at present:
- National Forestry Standard of the Forest Service,
- FSC Standard; and
- PEFC Standard.
The National Standard, unlike the other two, is not a certification standard but a reporting mechanism to measure Ireland’s progress in the implementation of SFM.
The official view is that sustainable forest management is achieved through the implementation of the Code of Best Forest Practice and it’s supporting Guidelines published by the Forest Service. Both the FSC and PEFC certification standards accept all of the requirements of the Code and Guidelines but go beyond these to achieve higher levels of care for the environment and the social aspects of forestry.
Both the FSC and PEFC forestry standards for Ireland are loosely based on the UK Woodland Assurance Standard which was the first forestry certification standard developed for this part of the world. Forest conditions are broadly similar between Britain and Ireland and it is appropriate that the standards should also be similar. The standards are based on the principle of sustainable forest management which attempts to balance the economic, environmental and social aspects of forestry. The standards are very wide ranging in their scope covering all aspects of forest management. In some cases they are very prescriptive and detailed in what is required of a forest owner/manager in order to achieve SFM. This is particularly so in the case of the FSC Standard with environmental issues.
Further information at:
Both the FSC and PEFC use independent professional auditors to assess the level of compliance with their Standards by forest owners/managers. Main audits are held every 5 years in which all aspects of the forest enterprise are examined against the Standard. Surveillance audits are also carried out each year but generally on a sample basis. In addition to site inspections, stakeholders are invited to submit any issues they have with regard to the management of the forest being audited, which are also investigated.
Arising from the audits corrective action requests can be raised for any non-compliances found and depending on the seriousness of the issue a period of time is allowed to correct the non-compliance. Failure to do so for major issues can result in the withdrawal of the certificate with its consequences for access to markets.
Full audit reports are compiled and public summaries are made available via the web. FSC audit reports are available for Irish forests under at the following link: FSC Certificate Database
Chain of Custody (CoC) is a mechanism for tracking certified material from the forest to the final product to ensure that the wood, wood fibre or non-wood forest produce contained in the product or product line can be traced back to certified forests.
It is an essential part of the certification system which ensures that claims about products originating in sustainably managed forests are credible and verifiable throughout the whole supply chain.
Chain of Custody certification reinforces the sustainability commitments of businesses. It allows companies to use the certification scheme logos on products, making them identifiable as coming from sustainably managed forests.
Chain-of-custody certification is a separate process from the forest management certification. It starts at the point of when the timber or non-timber products leave the forest gate and tracks their movement through the various stages of transport, processing, storage, distribution, and eventually sale to the end user. At each step there must be a documented system in place to track the certified lots as they passes through the different facilities e.g. from the forest, to sawmill, to wholesaler to furniture maker and finally to the consumer.
Each certification scheme has its own CoC certification procedures. Like forest management certification auditing is carried out by professional auditors to the requirements of the different schemes.
FSC Chain-of Custodies for Irish firms can be seen at: FSC Certificate Database
A labelling scheme is used by both the FSC and PEFC schemes to show consumers that the wood or non-wood products have been certified as coming from sustainably managed forests. The labels bear the logo of the scheme, the percentage of virgin or recycled material and the certificate number which identifies the source of the material. Today these labels are increasingly to be seen on many wood and wood-derived products for sale.
IMPACTS OF FOREST CERTIFICATION
While Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) was a paradigm shift in the approach to forest management in Ireland it is doubtful if SFM alone would have achieved the changes that have taken place since the introduction of Forest Certification. Certification, by providing access to markets that increasingly demand certified timber, provides the necessary incentive to ensure that forestry organisations actually implement SFM.
Through forest certification huge improvements have taken place in certified organisations in the areas of forest planning, consultation, nature conservation, forest operations, reductions in chemical use, training, to name but a few. Probably one of the most significant improvements has been a greater awareness of the potential impacts of forest plans and operations on people and on the environment, and the mitigation of these impacts. Engagement with stakeholders has helped forest managers and planners to understand the concerns of the public while also providing them with an opportunity to explain the often conflicting constraints that they must manage.
The certification of Coillte, while still controversial with the environmental NGOs has greatly influenced forest management in Ireland. Improvements have permeated throughout the sector and have greatly influenced forest policies and practices. Today compliance with certification standards is still a challenge but has become part of everyday practice.
Further information at: Forest Certification – what does it mean for Irish forestry?