Why Aren’t More Forests Certified?

Protecting and managing forests, and all the essential services forests provide, is critical to the well-being of our planet and its inhabitants. Forests provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat, and a home to an enormous and vast array of biodiveristy. Forest also provide recreational value, resources we depend on every day, and support economies all over the world. Forests are so much a part of our everyday lives they are often taken for granted. How can we protect forests when we depend on them for so much?

Active forest management, and particularly sustainable forest management (SFM), are strategies to help strike a balance in the relationship between society’s needs and maintaining forest health. Forest certification programs, first introduced in the 1990s, are one tool that have been established to assure stakeholders SFM practices are being followed. The Programme of the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) gives a good definition: “Sustainable Forest Management certification provides forest owners and managers with independent recognition of their responsible management practices … certification provides forest owners and managers — families, communities, and companies — with access to the global marketplace for certified products.”

Today only about 12% of the world’s forests are certified to third-party systems such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). This is despite the fact that many companies request certified wood for their products. Demand in many industry sectors — solid wood, paper, and packaging — is much greater than the supply of certified wood. It begs the question: Why aren’t more forests certified?

This was the fundamental question that SPC’s Forest Products Working Group (FPWG), a collaboration of 20+ companies across the supply chain, spent the last year and half trying to answer. Working across the forest products value chain, from landowners to brand owners, the the FPWG companies found that there are a number of reasons why forest certification has not been more widely adopted, with a specific focus on the United States.

Through a series of interviews, workshops, and research, the group has found that the underlying issue is that forest certification needs to offer a more compelling value proposition to small private landowners in the United States. Likewise, forest certification also needs to offer a more compelling value proposition to brand owners. Over the course of the next few months, the FPWG will be sharing their findings from this project, including the process the group used during the project called the Value Innovation Process, or VIP. An approach that was integral to developing our findings because we asked, first: “What is the job that forest certification is hired to do?” Or in other words, getting a better understanding of “what is the value of forest certification” before looking at ways to fix certification as is.

Using the VIP, the FPWG sought to understand why many landowners and forest managers have opted not to seek certification. At the other end of the value chain, we also explored the dynamics driving leading brands and other corporations to focus on buying certified products. We also reached consensus that there are many uncertified forests that are currently practicing sound, sustainable forest management. Against this backdrop, the group is seeking to find additional strategies to enhance the value of certification.

The FPWG interviewed numerous members of the value chain including landowners, foresters, loggers, merchants, printers, manufacturers, brand owners, associations, consultants, and more. The FPWG hosted two in-person Summits where we brought value chain members and representatives from FSC, SFI, and ATFS to discuss strategies to better drive the value of forest certification. The findings were numerous. Often complex. And in the spirit of innovation, not surprisingly, findings varied enormously. In the next few months the FPWG will be discussing sharing in more detail what we heard across the value chain.

In the context of the VIP, we continue to seek answers to complex questions such as:

  • How might we gain assurance of Sustainable Forest Management when certification is not an option?
  • How might we focus on value chain members who can have the most impact on driving the value of forest certification?
  • How might  we address feedback that certification is overly complex, expensive, and does not deliver optimal desired value?
  • How might we stimulate better dialogue across value chain from landowners to brand owners?
  • How might we overcome perceptions that landowners are not practicing sustainable forest management?
  • How might we educate multiple stakeholders about forestry and forest ownership?
  • How might we create a better value proposition for small private landowners and brand owners?
  • How might we create market incentives, policies or other mechanisms that will fundamentally help keep forests as forests?
  • How might we explore innovative strategies to go beyond certification?
  • How might we gain a better understanding of supply and demand?

In the spirit of innovation, we welcome input from multiple stakeholders as we continue to tackle these complex issues.  Stay tuned for more findings and notices of upcoming events.

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