A certified forest product bears a certificate that demonstrates, in a verifiable manner, that it comes from a forest which is managed sustainably. Certification is a way for consumers and retailers to check the suppliers of goods. It is a means for forest managers to promote their products.
Defining what exactly is meant by 'sustainably managed', and setting up fair and credible systems to verify that a product is in fact produced sustainably, poses many problems and has been the cause of much tension in the forest sector at all levels.
The European Parliament, in its 1996 report on the European Forestry strategy, describes the need for: "... a recognised international certification system, as regards the sustainable management of forests. The certification should be transparent, voluntary, non-discriminatory and should take account of the specific ecological, biological and socio-economic characteristics of each country including forest ownership patterns. Certification should fully meet the objective assigned to it of enhancing economically, socially and ecologically sustainable use of forests in full compliance with national, EU and international legislation."
Certification has become a highly political issue with strong support from environmental NGOs and retailer groups, but outright rejection by some forest owners and processors. Capacity to set up viable certification systems varies widely, as the relative cost of certification is much higher for small forest owners. It is only to avoid the imposition of systems less acceptable to them that forest owners are starting to develop their own system. For the time being, demand for certified products is not coming from final consumers of wood and paper products, but rather from retailers seeking to anticipate their customers' wishes. It is some forest industries hoping to gain market shares, that embrace certification, while others reject it due to low demand. The climate of opinion about certification also varies strongly between countries.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an independent, non- profit, non-governmental international organisation. It is an association of Members founded by a diverse group of representatives from environmental and social groups, the timber trade and the forestry profession, indigenous people's organisations, community forestry groups and forest product certification organisations from around the world. Membership is open to all who share its aims and objectives. It provides an umbrella organisation and structure within which qualified independent certifiers can operate according to clear guidelines and using agreed standards covering social, environmental and economic aspects of forest management drawn up by professionals in forestry as well as in ecology and in rural and social development. The Forest Stewardship Council accredits certification organisations in order to guarantee the authenticity of their claims. In all cases the process of certification will be initiated voluntarily by forest owners and managers who request the services of a certification organisation. The goal of FSC is to promote environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world's forests, by establishing a world-wide standard of recognised and respected Principles of Forest Stewardship.
Defining what exactly is meant by "sustainably managed," and setting up fair and credible systems to verify that a product is in fact produced sustainably, poses many problems and has been the cause of much tension in the forest sector. Many different forms of certification currently exist. Although the concept of certification appears to carry much momentum, the form that will eventually be accepted in the marketplace is unclear.