Behind the logo: An environmental and social assessment of forest certification schemes

Why the PEFC, SFI and CSA are not credible forest certification systems.


orest certification can be an important tool to improve forest management. It is neither a panacea to solve the world's forest crisis, nor can it replace regulations and legislation. However, it can and should complement these tools.

    The role forest certification can play depends on the strength of the chosen certification system. Certification systems currently in operation are significantly different from each other in terms of procedural and performance requirements.

    The four largest are: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Pan European Forest Certification Scheme (PEFC). The FSC is a global program, the CSA is only applicable in Canada, the SFI is mainly applicable in the US and Canada, and the PEFC provides a framework for national certification schemes in up to 14 European countries.

    The CSA, PEFC and SFI are certification systems initiated and, in most cases, governed primarily by the forestry industry and forest owners. Although attempts by the forestry industry and forest owners to improve forest management are to be encouraged, we believe that the CSA, the SFI and the PEFC do not fulfil the basic requirements for credible forest certification systems and should not be preferred or promoted by consumers or corporate purchasers.

Basic requirements for a credible certification system

    Certification is a process by which an independent third party gives written assurances that a product, process or service conforms to specified requirements.

    To be effective, forest certification must:

  • Be based on objective, comprehensive, independent and measurable performance-based standards both environmental and social;
  • Be based on equal and balanced participation of a broad range of stakeholders;
  • Be based on a labelling system that includes a credible chain of custody;
  • Be based on reliable and independent third party assessments and include annual field audits;
  • Be fully transparent to the parties involved and the public. hile the PEFC, CSA and SFI incorporate some of the above features, only FSC delivers on every important component of a credible forest management certification system. Consequently, we consider the FSC to be the only available framework that meets the basic requirements outlined above. The FSC is therefore the only credible forest certification system that we can recommend to consumers or promote among forest managers, policy makers and the public.
  • Take place at the forest management unit level (and not at country or regional level);
  • Be cost effective and voluntary;
  • Positively demonstrate commitment from the forest owner/manager towards improving forest management;
  • Be applicable globally and to all sorts of tenure systems, to avoid discrimination and distortion in the market place.

FSC PEFC CSA SFI Characteristic
Yes No No No Certification of performance standards with clear minimum environmental and social thresholds.
Yes No No No Allows for equitable and balanced participation and decision making.
Yes No No No Includes a credible chain of custody as a basis for product labelling.
Yes No Yes No Requires independent third party assessment and annual field audits.
Yes No No No Is transparent to the public and the parties involved.
Yes No Yes Yes Requires forest management unit level certification.
Yes No Yes Yes Is cost effective and voluntary
Yes No Yes Yes Requires a clear commitment from managers towards improving forest management.
Yes No No No Is a global system, applicable in all regions and all sorts of tenure systems.

    Applying these basic requirements to the four different certification systems shows clearly why the FSC is currently the only certification system that meets these requirements:

  1. Although the PEFC has different standards and procedures in different European countries, the table [below] is based on the general PEFC requirements. Some national PEFC systems (e.g. Sweden) are performance based.
  2. Performance standards should specifically address a comprehensive range of key issues, including, at a minimum: old-growth or high conservation value forests; protection of biological diversity; use of chemicals and GMOs; recognition of indigenous peoples' rights; soil and water quality; and consistency with laws and international agreements (e.g., ILO standards on labor rights, Convention on Biological Diversity).
  3. Public input is required via public advisory groups, but the final decision about performance objectives is made by the applicant.
  4. SFI is largely systems based. The forestry organization determines the scope of the assessment and it is unclear to what extent individual forest management unit audits are required.
  5. All schemes are seen as cost-effective, but not all are voluntary.
  6. As in some cases regions are certified without requiring the consent of all the forest owners in the region, it is doubtful whether the system is truly voluntary. Forest owners are given the option not to join, but this involves opting out and communicating this decision.
  7. Compliance with the SFI standard is mandatory for the members of the American Forest and Paper Association, the national trade association for the US forest products and paper industry. Members may choose between first-party, second-party or third-party verification. Only third-party verification equals SFI certification.

    The above is a joint NGO Statement by: Alberta Forest Conservation Association, Canada; Albertans for a Wild Chinchaga, Canada; American Lands, USA; ARA, Germany; Boreal Footprint Project, USA; Both Ends, Netherlands; Bruno Manser Fund, Switzerland; Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society; Centre for International Studies, Canada; Centre for Orang Asli Concerns, Malaysia; Clearinghouse Group, Canada Club Ornithologique du Madawaska, Canada; Defenders of Wildlife, USA; Ecological Institute International, Canada; Environment Neroth, Canada ; Falls Brook Centre, Canada; Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists, Canada; Fern, UK-Brussels; Finnish Nature League; Forest Ethics, USA ; Forest Peoples Programme, UK; Friends of the Earth (FoE), England, Wales and Northern Ireland; FoE, France; FoE, Indonesia-WALHI; FoE, Netherlands FoE, Norway; FoE, Slovakia; FoE, USA; Friends of the Siberian Forests, Russia; Global Witness, UK; Greenpeace International; Greenpeace, Austria/France/Germany/ Italy /Netherlands/Switzerland/New Zealand; ICUCEC, Canada; Institute for Development and Alternative Living, Malaysia; Just Forests, Ireland; National Wildlife Federation, USA; Netherlands Committee for Indigenous Peoples; Natural Resources Defence Council, USA; PERC, USA; People and Nature Network, Germany; Potlotek Fish & Wildlife Association, Canada; Rainforest Alliance, USA; Saskatchewan Forest Conservation Network, Canada; Sierra Club, Canada; Sierra Club, BC-Canada; Sierra Club USA; South East Yukon Proper Land Use Society, Canada; TIES, Canada; Urgewald, Germany; Woodwise Program, Co-op America; WWF, Canada; WWF, European Forest Team; WF, USA; Yukon Chapter, Canada.

    Report produced by Fern, May 2001, based on case studies by WWF France, Taiga Consulting, Taiga Rescue Network, Robin Wood, NRDC, Fern, Finnish Nature League, Greenpeace International. The full report, Behind the logo, is available from Fern: