The Role of Chain of Custody Systems
Evolution of Forest Certification
Certification is a relatively simple approach for the verification and reinforcement of standard practices. It is applied in market sectors where the recognition of standards is meaningful to buyers. A wide variety of products and practices are certified through a number of certification agencies. The best known of such agencies include the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) in the U.S., and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). Perhaps the direct inspiration for many of the early proponents of forest certification has been the success of organic agriculture certification. As a largely consumer-driven market, food products certified as organic acknowledge farmers for environmentally responsible practices by providing a premium on their products. Advocates of voluntary forest certification believe the same approach should be applied to forest products. If concerned consumers are willing to pay a premium for responsibly produced forest products, then certification may make responsible forestry economically viable for producers and processors.
By providing economic incentives for SFM certification, forest managers have the opportunity to pursue (at least appear to) the goals of sustainable management without risking the company's bottom line. Though there are many interpretations of the term, most forest managers are familiar with the concepts and practices of sustainable forest management, (Maser and Smith, 2001). Certification does not require a leap of faith on their part. The concepts of sustainable forest management which have been incorporated into forest certification are not new ideas. They have been key elements of international agreements and guidelines including the Brundtland Commission's report on Sustainable Development and the United Nations "Earth Summits" held every five years since 1992. These meetings have, at times, addressed forestry directly. The "Criteria and Indicators" established by the Montreal Process working group in 1995 helped to codify and solidify targets for SFM in temperate and boreal forests (Montreal Process, 1995). The general international consensus that progress towards sustainable development and resource use is imperative, in conjunction with the growing knowledge of these concepts within the industry, has facilitated the widespread acceptance of forestry certification programs(Nordin, 1996). This suggests that economic factors, not a lack of expertise is the main obstacle to the adoption of sustainable practices, and often lead the companies harvesting forests to consider only the "lowest common denominator" in their management strategies.
The progress political bodies have made toward standards of sustainable development is the result of the continuing efforts of concerned professionals in academia and industry. These individuals have lead the search for solutions to our current resource management problems, and attempted to bring them to the forefront of public debate. The rapid growth of interest in forest certification can also be attributed to a groundswell of public concern about the sustainability of forestry practices over the last twenty years (Kiekens, 1999; Nordin 1996; Kajiwara 1999). These concerns, which were amplified by the campaigns of environmental organizations, focus on rates of deforestation, particularly those of ancient forest lands, worldwide (Rickenbach et al., 2000). The force of public pressure was greatest in Europe where the limited extent of remaining forests was most evident (Maser and Smith, 2001). This concern was transmitted to the North American market, where pressure from European buyers and the domestic public began to have an effect on the industry.
Environmental Non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) are the most pressing force behind the movement towards voluntary certification schemes. Their campaigns to mobilize public support for alternatives, boycott irresponsible firms and agitate for more sustainable forest practices can, in effect, create sanctions on the products of specific corporations (Kiekens, 1999; Rickenbach et al., 2000; Mater 1997). These campaigns and the public pressure that has emerged with and because of them have generated concerns amongst the marketing and public relations departments in the forestry industry. As a result, forestry companies have made substantial commitments toward sustainable forestry practices in order to avoid tarnishing their corporate image and the financial risks that boycotts present (Hayward and Vertinsky, 1999).
Forest certification has developed as a very logical extension of the global dialogue about "sustainable development". Voluntary 3rd party certification approaches have been recognized by ENGOs, foresters and the general public as capable of generating a win-win situation; one where firms gain market benefits, while buyers and ENGOs are assured of the established standards being met. The continuing evolution of such systems is based on the ideal of perpetual improvement, which provides the basis for the forest certification movement in all of its manifestations.
© 2002 McGill School of Environment
3534 University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 2A7