McGill Environmental Research Forest Certification Project

Emerging Trends In Forest Certification:
The Role of Chain of Custody Systems

Introduction: A Paradigm Shift in Forestry

Re and source mean reciprocal, to use something from the Earth and then to be the source of its renewal. Today’s dictionaries define “resource” as any property that can be converted into money. Yet if we go back to the original sense of the word “re-source”, we will find that the biological sustainability of our forests lies embodied in a word that we blithely use but do not fully understand. (Maser, 2001)

Forest certification is an integration of many closely linked forces and points of view on both regional and international levels. Since its inception in the early nineties, the movement for forest certification has developed several systems that can potentially serve as a bridge between traditionally antagonistic perspectives. As perspectives about forestry and resource management and the state of the world's forests change, increasing public pressure is compelling forest harvesting operations to incorporate the tenets of sustainable forest managements (SFM).

In 1988, Frederick J. Deneke, former assistant director of the USDA Forest Service Cooperative Forestry program describes the spectrum of attitudes concerning forestry as ever-developing. Deneke illustrates how in recent decades Pinchot's anthropocentric and utilitarian concept of forest lands came to represent the mainstream values. This view prevailed as ecologists like Aldo Leopold inspired a new ideology of land use advocating a more integrated approach to ecology and biology, which is now gradually gaining influence on forest management. Contemporary thinkers like Chris Maser revitalize these biocentric ideals by applying them in a modern context. Deneke suggests that these views will come to influence the mainstream and that new voices will push the leading edge of resource management forward, demanding that perpetual improvement remain an integral part of any land ethic.

The forest certification movement originates from the ideologies of those on the fringe of resource management. As an approach born out of multiple desires for improvement, forest certification has the potential to realign our "re-source" use and our long-term needs as a society. Forest certification seeks to reconcile the economic goals that drive the forestry industry with the ecological ideals of a vocal minority of customers. Their success in this regard determines the types of certified operations, the status and even the viability of each scheme. Overall, certification standards address a growing public desire for accountable and responsible practices in industry; they provide a mechanism for consumer driven change in an industry where government legislation regulation could or perhaps wood not.


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