Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Forest Management Certification as a Tool for Conservation

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Forest Management Certification as a Tool for Conservation

Article excerpt

Certification of good forest management represents a new approach in the global effort to sustain our diverse forest ecosystems. Sustainability, a central tenet of certification, is a complex concept, best thought of as a goal to be strived for and redefined in the process. Elements of sustainability with which most would agree include: maintenance of ecological functions and biological diversity of the forest ecosystem; assurance that people who inhabit or work in the forest receive a fair share of the income from forest management; and financial returns from forest management and value-added activities that are profitable and competitive with conversion of forestland to alternative uses.

Any new idea is likely to be controversial and generate a measure of public uncertainty. This is particularly the case when the idea has major financial implications, advocates a new balance by featuring conservation instead of protection, and signals a shift in emphasis from "command-and-control" regulation of forest use to market-based incentives (Kiker and Putz 1997). The market for certified products is relatively new and small compared with the overall wood trade, there are few brokers, and as yet there are no trade magazines and few product shows. As a result, signals between consumers and producers were at first weak and mixed -- evidence of a truly emerging market.

Conscientious consumers are understandably confused. Not many years ago environmental organizations were advocating boycotts on the purchase of tropical woods as a "save-the-rain-forest" measure. In response to pressure, some 200 municipalities in the United States banned the use of tropical woods in public construction. The movement has been even stronger in Europe. Recently, major environmental organizations have reassessed the effect of timber boycotts. Factors considered have included fairness to developing countries and the probability that bans would devalue tropical timber and thus provide additional pressure for conversion of forestland to crops and pasture. The resultant shift to the new, marketbased approach has moved quickly.

In 1990 the first forest certification took place, with a teak plantation in Indonesia certified as well managed by SmartWood, a program of the New York-based Rainforest Alliance. The Woodworkers' Alliance for Rainforest Protection in the United States proposed the creation of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in 1992; the FSC founding assembly was held in late 1993; and the council began to accredit certifiers in 1995 (Viana and others 1996). Although certification was first conceived as a tool for saving tropical forests, representatives from the tropics were quick to point out that logging practices in temperate and boreal forests are, if anything, more destructive than is logging in tropical forests.


On a global scale the FSC, which is based in Oaxaca, Mexico, continues to be the leading certification organization. Its goals are to promote environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of forests through the establishment of worldwide standards for good forest management. The FSC accredits organizations that in turn offer independent, third-party certification of forest operations. There are now six accredited certifiers, and at least five more are under review. More than 16 million hectares have been certified in thirty countries (Table I; Figure 1) (FSC 1999). Certifiers also audit and issue chain-of-custody certificates to added-value processors and retailers to assure that any product sold with an FSC label can be traced back to a well-managed forest. The FSC seeks to have its logo inspire as much confidence among environmentally conscientious consumers as "[U.sub.L] Listed" does among safety-conscious buyers of electrical equipment (Figure 2).

FSC certification of good forest management has four distinguishing characteristics. …

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