McGill Environmental Research Forest Certification Project

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

Executive Summary

The voluntary certification of forest products of companies to ensure adherence to sustainable standards is a new development in the world of forestry. In North America there are a number of substantially different certification programs available to interested parties, each with its own costs and benefits. Among the many differences between certification programs, the structure and methods of verifying the supply chain - also called the chain of custody or simply COC - is an area where very different approaches have been applied and where the results are not completely understood.

The scope of this study is limited to North American certification programs and includes a comparison between the origins, credibility and supply chain verification systems of the four leading certification programs widely implemented in North America: the Canadian Standards Association's (CSA) Z809 standard on Sustainable Forest Management; the American Forest and Pulp Association's (AF&PA) Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI); the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO) standard 14001 on Environmental Management Systems; as well as the Forest Stewardship Council's (FSC) certification program. A comprehensive review of available literature and an examination of the recent developments in the specific chain of custody rules applied by each of the four leading certification programs suggest that the FSC chain of custody program is unique in both its rigour and credibility.

Literature-based findings are supplemented by data gathered from a telephone survey of 48 FSC COC certificate holders in Canada and the United States. The data collected through this survey reveals that 82 percent of respondents plan to renew their certification, while 80 percent do not receive a premium for their certified products, 76 percent have not recuperated the costs of their certification, and 27 percent presently do not sell certified products. Our data suggests that FSC COC certification has a bright future despite the lack of market incentives. Further, it appears that the benefits certification does provide may be extremely important to its future.


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