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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

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February 2002

Deterrents to certification

Why isn't certification for everyone?

Natasha Kassulke & Kirsten Held


Given the current social and economic climate, forest certification isn't for every landowner. Here are some reasons why:

  • Cost: The certification process can be costly. The forest owner pays for planning and implementing sustainable forestry. The logger invests in training and equipment to minimize harvesting impacts. Consumers absorb these costs when they buy forest products. Certification cost ranges from less than 50 cents per acre to several thousand dollars total. Audits cost 5 to 20 cents per acre. Large landowners can spread these costs across many acres, while small, nonindustrial landowners do not have that advantage. One way to keep certification costs lower for small woodland owners is to certify all the land managed by a trained consultant or land manager. Group certification also is offered by the Forest Stewardship Council and allows several small forest properties to be certified together to reduce costs.

  • Demand: Thus far, U.S. sales of forest products have not financially rewarded businesses that sell certified lumber, unlike the European market, which generally accepts and to some degree demands certification and "green" labeling of consumer products.

With an ever-growing demand for wood products, we must sustain and efficiently manage our forests. © Robert Queen
With an ever-growing demand for wood products, we must sustain and efficiently manage our forests.

© Robert Queen

  • Credibility: Some critics question the credibility of standards that do not require a third-party audit. Others fear that a system that seems right for one landowner today, might not meet needs or provide benefits in the future. Costs for growing and tracking certified products, and antitrust laws are shying some landowners and wood producers from certification.

  • Scope: The challenges of promoting good forest practices across all segments of forest economy and ownership are enormous. Managing the size of certification programs also is a challenge. For example, the Tree Farm program certifies nearly 68,000 woodland owners nationwide and these lands have to be inspected every five years.

  • Chain-of-custody: A distinct feature of Forest Stewardship Council certification is that labeled products must be tracked from seed to final product to prove every step from growing, to harvesting and processing was well-managed. Tracking chain-of-custody is expensive and logistically difficult, though. Techniques used include paper audit trails (invoices, receipts and bills), mechanical methods (bar-coding, imprinting and painting certified wood so it is visually differentiated) and physical product sorting (segregating certified from noncertified material).

  • The law: Complexity of state, national and international laws present challenges for forest professionals and businesses. Antitrust laws and regulations constrain how green marketing can limit marketplace access. Even with lofty goals, there are limits on constraining international trade. The United States Federal Trade Commission guidelines require that any marketplace claims – or label – clearly communicate product attributes to the public. "Green wood" may not be a better product even though it was grown, harvested and handled in a sustainable way. Explaining the value of conforming to certified standards remains a public challenge.