The unique part of the plan was to use consumer purchasing of forest products as the catalyst for responsible forest management around the world. Harnessing market forces would perpetuate a healthy forest with little or no need for regulation. Even Rainforest Alliance indicated it was not a "panacea" for forest management improvements but would work if, and only if, other initiatives and policies were in place.
Still, Rainforest Alliance had developed one of the only workable certification systems anywhere on the planet. This forest certification process is now managed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and based in Bonn, Germany.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) "considers the FSC certification system to be the only credible system to ensure environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of forests." WWF recommends the FSC system to consumers, forest managers, policy makers, businesses and the public.
What is Forest Certification?
Forest certification is a means by which consumers can have confidence that they are buying wood from sustained forest sources - with documented proof of sustainability called "chain of custody". This process ensures forest diversity and protection through a "green premium" and invigorates forests that are managed under this system. Theoretically, certified forests would be environmentally, socially and economically better able to sustain a timber product while maintaining adequate wildlife habitat and water quality protection.
But how do you know if a forest qualifies?
The whole process depends on the certifier's reliability and the "chain of custody" back to the wood source. The certifier (usually an organization) considers whether the timber resources are sustainable. The certifier gives equal weight to the health of the entire forest ecosystem, which includes adequate wildlife habitat and watershed protection, and the economic and cultural impact of the operation on local communities. This leads to certification if all the qualifications are met.
Two Major Certification Organizations - FSC and PEFC
In the early stages of the program several organizations came forward to define certification and certification compliance. Almost as soon as these programs were launched it became evident that a broader organization would be needed to provide over-site - a certifier of the certifiers.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was developed to evaluate, accredit and monitor certifiers, and to strengthen the process through training, education, and the development of national initiatives. The FSC does not certify forest products itself. It ensures consumers that certifying organizations have the highest level of credibility and integrity. FSC has 16,000 "chain of custody" certified stake holders who control 296 million acres.
A major North American certifier, the Sustained Forest Initiative (SFI), describes itself as a fully independent, charitable organization dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management. SFI works with 781 conservation groups, local communities, resource professionals, landowners, and countless other organizations and individuals to become "chain of custody" certified forest holders who control 80 million forested acres. SFI presents an alternative approach to FSC that may be a bit more realistic for North American forests.
SFI understands that world state economies are different and thus embraces and is a part of a larger certification process called Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC). This SFI/PEFC partnership is one of 25 systems that have been through a rigorous assessment process and account for more than 200 million hectares of certified forests. PEFC claims to presently be the world's largest certification system.