Finding Answers to Certification Challenges

20 June 2017

To continue to increase the volume of verified sustainable timber on the market, the industry cannot settle for the certification status quo, says James Latham plc chairman Peter Latham

The issue of demonstrating the sustainability of American hardwoods in a credible manner has gained importance for companies, such as James Latham, who are committed to the WWF Forest Campaign 2020 target of trading in only certifi ed products by 2020 and whose customer base increasingly makes similar demands.

Growth in American certifi cation has been in softwoods, mainly for pulp, where the land ownership pattern is larger areas of state or corporate managed forests. There has been limited growth in certifi ed supplies of joinery quality hardwood where the ownership pattern is a large number of small operators, who log infrequently, and the supply chain makes traceability diffi cult and expensive.

The requirement of the EUTR to demonstrate legality was met through the study by Seneca Creek Associates, which showed that there was a less than 1% risk of any illegal wood entering the US hardwood supply chain.

The recent seminar run by AHEC and James Latham for stakeholders dealing in American hardwoods and hardwood products was a good opportunity to present the fi ndings of a newly established hardwood forest risk assessment team of experts whose aim was to review the key indicators required to demonstrate the sustainability of the forests on a regional basis. This was not only an opportunity to see the conclusions of the work but also one for stakeholders to suggest additional approaches.

With my chair of PEFC hat on, I saw three areas which need to be addressed by the certifi cation schemes. The fi rst is the question of the certifi cation of small forest owners who might only produce income from their forest once a generation and cannot justify the cost of an annual audit. The PEFC group certifi cation process works well in many countries, notably in Finland, but in spite of success with small American plantations, it has made little ground with joinery quality hardwood. Whether this is a question of culture, cost or perceived need, I do not know!

The second issue is whether certifi cation of individual forest units should be the only approach to meet the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic.

It seems illogical to support a system that can certify a small forest area as meeting all the requirements of good management while illegal logging and forest loss are evident in surrounding areas. Perhaps a regional approach, such as that demonstrated by AHEC for the American forests, is a positive step towards demonstrating sustainability.

My third issue is whether enough attention is given by the schemes to the measurement of the impact from the management of certifi cation of forest areas.

PEFC UK is running a stakeholder seminar in London on July 4 when speakers will set out to demonstrate the positive benefi ts. Attention is focused on maintaining the status quo but, when we are still seeing the loss in global biodiversity, should we not be looking for positive benefi ts for sustainable management?

While the American approach to demonstrating the sustainability of their hardwood forests is a very positive step forward, it still leaves some issues to resolve as well as raising challenges to both PEFC and FSC.

Peter Latham