Certification aims to prove that products come from well managed forests; providing environmental, social and economic benefits.
What is certification?
Consumers demand that goods are produced in an environmentally responsible way. Markets respond to this demand by making various ‘eco’ claims.
Certification is one way to prove that products come from well managed forests; providing environmental, social and economic benefits. It re-assures (potential) consumers of the origin of wood used in timber products.
Take a humble wooden spoon, for instance. How does a potential buyer know that this spoon is not made from illegally logged tropical hardwood? Independently audited certification schemes aim to provide such assurances: where the wooden spoon came from, what forest management has been implemented, etc. A certified wooden spoon has a full paper trail leading back to the forest from which it came. An independent organisation carries out an audit, and as a result, will issue a certificate confirming that a forest is being managed in accordance with a certain standard.
FSC and PEFC
The two best known schemes operating in Ireland are PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). Each Standard has been developed nationally by a number of ‘stakeholders’ affiliated to an economic, environmental or social group or chamber. Both schemes comply with an internationally agreed framework of standards.
When people refer to timber certification, two different processes are involved. Forest Management (FM) certification aims to ensure that the management of a forest complies with certain rules and regulations from tree establishment to timber harvest. The second process aims to track the timber once it leaves the forest until it ends up with the customer. This is called Chain of Custody (CoC) certification.
Markets –especially international markets- now demand certification. Certification is a voluntary commitment and nobody is forced to join. However, the message from Irish sawmills to private growers is very simple: get your timber certified. It is becoming increasingly difficult for Irish sawmills to export uncertified timber. Although FSC and PEFC allow 20 to 30% of uncertified timber, this option is gradually disappearing because more and more private (and larger) timber is coming onto the market.
Group certification may well be the only viable option for private forest owners in Ireland as certification costs are shared amongst many forest owners.
Group certification can be organised for a (large) number of forests owned by different people. Forest owners can formally join the group, agreeing to implement the required levels of management in their forests. A group manager defines management requirements and monitors members’ performance. The group manager can provide support with the implementation and monitors compliance. An external auditor checks the group manager and inspects a random number of group members.
It remains to be seen if certification will lead to better timber prices. Costs are very variable and depend on many factors such as the regulatory framework already in place (or not), size and number of forests involved, current management practices, external assistance required, accredited certification body retained, etc.
Costs tend to be substantially lower in other parts of Europe where certification has become much more commonplace, where stronger regulatory frameworks may be in place, where the State may bear some of the costs and where Forest Owner Associations tend to be much larger and longer established.
It is important for forest owners to consider the above topics carefully as it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell uncertified timber on the (international) market. Certification is less about additional paperwork or getting higher timber prices but more about being able to sell your timber widely.
Presentation by John Sherlock of the North East Forestry Group at the Talking Timber event held in Ballyhaise College, Cavan in August 2017. This is a timber marketing event organised by Teagasc with the co-operation of the Irish timber industry and the Forest Service (DAFM).