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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

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February 2002

Types of certification

What does it take to earn the "good wood" stamp of approval?

Natasha Kassulke & Kirsten Held

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) | ISO 14001
Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) | American Tree Farm
Green Tag


A number of complementary certification programs have developed over the past 10 years.

Overseeing much of the international certification process is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and labeling program and the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System. But others – including the Sustainable Forest Initiative program, American Tree Farm System and Green Tag – were specifically developed for use in the United States.

Programs differ in nature and scope of their assessments. Some are systems-based, relying on general standards that conform to sustainable forestry principles. Often times, they're linked to the ISO 14001 process. This type of assessment is of valuable to larger companies since they can tailor the system to their situation.

Performance-based certification requires landowners to meet standards that are independently set and use specific measures to monitor on-the-ground performance.

Other programs are hybrids of systems and performance-based programs.

Another difference Mark Rickenbach, assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Forest Ecology and Management, notes is who certifies that an operation meets forest standards. Verification may be first-, second-, or third-party.

First-party, or self-verification, is conducted within an organization by its staff.

An affiliated group, such as a trade association, conducts second-party verification.

An independent group or consultant that has no financial interest in the firm being audited conducts third-party verification. This is widely regarded as the most credible and objective form of certification, much as independent CPAs verify sound business practices, because it ensures that the forest assessment is conducted objectively.

Programs also differ in the way participants communicate that they are meeting standards. Some award certificates; others note the certification on company letterhead, annual reports and public communication. Still others provide a sign, logo or label that indicates the product comes from a certified forest.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international nonprofit body, has accredited certification organizations since 1993. FSC applies to forests worldwide and its principles and criteria are general, intended as a framework for developing national or regional standards.

In the United States, the FSC covers two accredited certifiers – Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) in Oakland, Calif., and SmartWood headquartered in New York.

© Forest Stewardship Council
© Forest Stewardship Council

Once certified, a landowner is entitled to use the FSC logo on products and in marketing. FSC certification verifies the products have been tracked from the forest floor to the sales floor much as a "chain-of-custody" documents legal records. FSC certified acreage comprises 4.6 million acres in the United States; approximately 25 million acres internationally. Call (877) 372-5646 or visit Forest Stewardship Council.

ISO 14001

The International Standards Organization (ISO) formed in 1947 and promotes worldwide standards, international consistency and world trade. ISO 14000 standards were developed to support the objective of sustainable development discussed at the 1992 "Earth Summit" of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. ISO 14001, adopted in 1996, does not establish performance requirements or specific criteria that define sustainable forestry.

The ISO standard establishes a system for auditing, monitoring and improving environmental performance within a company to determine if the organization is achieving its stated environmental policies and objectives.

It also allows organizations to self-declare (first-party) they are conforming to standards. Since it is not a labeling program, no chain-of-custody certification is conducted. The American National Standards Institute also approves the ISO 14001. There are about 1.3 million acres enrolled in ISO 14001. Visit International Organization for Standardization.

Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI)

The Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) program was built on practices used by many in the forest and paper industry that long recognized the need for sustainable forestry. The SFI program is a system of principles, objectives and performance measures that integrate the perpetual growing and harvesting of trees with other forest benefits.

The SFI program was adopted in 1994 as a condition of membership in the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA). In 1998, it was opened to others when its principles, objectives and measures became an industry standard.

Education and promotion are key to the SFI program.

© Sustainable Forestry Initiative
© Sustainable Forestry Initiative

AF&PA members and SFI program licensees can conduct formal self-verifications, work with a second party or seek third-party certification.

The Conservation Fund, a nationally respected conservation organization, was the first nonprofit organization in the United States to become a licensee.

As of December 2001, the SFI program had an enrollment of 105 million acres with 37.8 million acres third-party certified. To learn more call (202) 463-2700 or visit Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

American Tree Farm

The American Tree Farm program started in 1941 to recognize good forest management. A Tree Farm committee comprised of industry, landowners, federal and state agencies, and others modernized these standards in 1998. Property owners with more than 10 acres of forestland must have a management plan, actively manage the forest, protect it from fire and insects, protect water quality, and provide for wildlife and recreation.

Currently, 68,000 private landowners owning more than 26 million acres participate. Of these, 3,726 are in Wisconsin with 1,742,069 acres.

Certification involves a site visit by a professional forester who volunteers to evaluate the five and 10-year plans. Forests are recertified every five years. Visit American Tree Fam System or call (888) 899-4466.

Green Tag

The Green Tag program was developed in 1998 by the National Forestry Association with the National Woodland Owners Association and Association of Consulting Foresters. The program for nonindustrial, private forest owners is based on Forest Stewardship Council procedures and recognizes six U.S. forest management regions.

© Green Tag
© Green Tag

Certified woodland owners are awarded a certificate and may display a Green Tag sign and Green Tag labels on products produced from the certified property. Green Tag certification comprises about 2,100 acres in nine states. Visit Green Tag Certified Forestry.