THE WOOD INDUSTRY
Why is it a good idea to get certified in regard to timber production?
A certificate is just like a diploma you get in school; a mechanism for attesting that something respects a given norm or quality standard. Generally speaking, it is proof that the processes in your forest or in your company respect the standards set up by experts in forestry.
But what does a forest certification represent and why should you use money on getting certified? To answer this question, we need to differentiate between a forest or a chain of custody certificate holder. Most of our readers are in the second category and here it is relevant to see how the timber material is handled in the supply chain.
Firstly, a certificate is a warranty to show that your company respects a specific protocol in your production. This protocol implies knowledge, resources, and people to sesure that certified wood remains traceable maybe by keeping it separated in a designated place or by using a credit system based of input/output. Every year there is an audit, where your purchases, sales documents, and warehouse stock are verified by an expert auditor. Also, you know that your certified suppliers or customers follow the same protocol and have gone through the same audit, in what we call a certified chain of custody (CoC).
But most importantly, you know that a certified CoC starts with a certified forest of origin. Here, at the starting point, is where the certification really makes a difference for the planet. Certification allows logging while ensuring a responsible forest management. For us in the industry, a certification is a strong reassurance that logging was performed legally, meaning respecting the regulations of the country, and depending on the certification, also the principles of sustainability.
So, you may say that all certified timber is legal, but not all legal wood is sustainable. Legislation is different from country to country, and the countries’ possibility to enforce the law is also different. If you always want to offer your customers legal and documented sustainable products, a forest certification is the best way. On the forest floor, you can easily see the difference between logging after conventional methods and logging after sustainable principles such as FSC® or PEFC.
Secondly, you will make life easier for your customers and their end-customers. People want beautiful wooden products, but they do not want to contribute to deforestation. It is easy and fast to take a buying decision when you have a label on the package that indicates sustainable forest management. Put yourself into the customer’s place: you need a new kitchen table and must choose between many different tables, but you value nature and want to protect forests. What would you choose?
Lastly, you avoid green washing. Green washing is when you claim to be sustainable, care for the future generations but do not have the means to prove it. When your products include wood from abroad, sourced through multiple countries, it can be very complicated to know what happened deep in the forest where it all started. By choosing a certified kitchen table you know you have done the right thing.
So which certification should you choose?
In short, it all depends on three factors:
- What raw materials do you use?
- On what market do you sell it?
- How well established is the certification scheme in your region?
If we were to look at FSC® and PEFC, both schemes are dedicated to sustainable forest management, but they focus on separate environments. The FSC® was initially set up in 1993 for tropical forest areas, but due to the differing climates and forests around the world, this led to the introduction of the PEFC in 1999 to make certification available for especially smaller applicants around the world, but often in Europe and North America, or what we call temperate areas.
FSC® sets specific standards, whereas PEFC is an umbrella brand incorporating different national certification schemes. Ultimately, the end-goals are the same. Both schemes protect forests and ensure end-users get the responsibly sourced timber they request. They both aim at creating and implementing sustainable forest policies. They help us save the forest for the future and protect them against destruction.
If your products end up at customers from US, European Union or Australia, you need to know that there are some international laws like Lacey act, EU Timber Regulation and Australian Illegal Logging Law that affect the trade.
All of these laws represent national approaches to forestry and wood trade and have four things in common:
- focus on legality in country of harvest;
- prohibit illegally traded timber;
- create an obligation to actively investigate about legality of harvest (due diligence);
- require that information about timber is collected to prove its legality.
As a consequence of these laws, your customers might require extensive information about the production and harvest as you are a part of their chain of custody. So, in order to explain and guarantee trust in international supply chains, it is immensely helpful to be certified.
Specifically for the legality aspect, there are legality verification schemes, such as OLB, VLC, Legal Source that are great tools in complying with EUTR, Lacey Act and so on. All certifications are important in countries with corruption perceived index (CPI) below 50, where there need to be extensive risk mitigation measures in place.
What do we do at Global Timber for certification?
As an actor in the global timber trade, we share the opinion that the perception of tropical timber is a challenge for the entire sector. We want to support honest and smaller producers to continue doing business and create positive change in their local communities.
We personally appreciate companies who are certified as it is a clear statement of a long-term sustainable approach. However, if you are a smaller company and you have resources to only comply with the law for the time being, buying wood produced under regulations like EUTR or Lacey Act is enough. If your American hardwood supplier is a member and audited by AHEC, it should be good to go. The same goes for EU countries, but keep in mind that there is not such a thing as EUTR certificate.
If we must differentiate briefly between FSC® and PEFC, we can say that FSC® generates regulations to follow, while PEFC works with local/national rule makers to make them sustainable.
However, both have their downsides: FSC® does have some loopholes. Where there are rules, there will always be someone trying to find holes in these rules and exploit them for own benefit. PEFC works to legalize forestry on a regional and national level. This means PEFC regulations are adapted from country to country and this can make it difficult for some to compare demands or regulations with other certifications.
There is a risk of losing out on some legal and sustainable suppliers if requesting one specific certification scheme only. As we have written, there are different traditions in certification, but the goal is always similar. Companies should source sustainable wood in general instead of specifically pointing out only one certification and reject others. Depending on where they are in the world, sawmills might have only a certain possibility of getting certified.
– Article by Per Friis Knudsen & Petra Postolache
FSC License code: FSC-C018269
Disclaimer: this newsletter is not about one method of certification over the other. We do not recommend one over the other; we support sustainable forest management and want a complete stop of illegally harvested wood. By being certified and by using documented legal wood, you can become a driver to stop the harvest of illegal wood. Wood does not need to be certified by FSC or PEFC to be legal, but these are the most recognized tools to prove legality and sustainability in the sector.