The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes’ (PEFC) endorsement of the North American Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) marked the culmination of a long process of co-operation between the schemes, which for many years had worked towards the goal of mutual recognition.

The actual process of SFI endorsement included a year-long independent assessment conducted by a consulting firm. In October the PEFC board recommended the SFI endorsement at the General Assembly in Brussels, followed by a ballot. In December the Sustainable Forestry Board (SFB), the independent, multi-stakeholder organisation that governs the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standard, audit procedures and qualifications, announced that the SFI had been endorsed by the PEFC. The news came close on the heels of the UK government’s recognition of SFI as proof of legal and sustainable timber.

With the addition of the SFI Program, PEFC now endorses 22 forest management systems around the world, accounting for nearly 450 million acres of certified forestland. In the US and Canada, SFI accounts for more than 150 million acres of enrolled forest (managed according to SFI principles), of which 129 million acres are independently certified to the SFI Standard, making SFI the largest single certification scheme in the US.

Two-way street

Both schemes benefit from the mutual recognition: by endorsing the SFI Program, PEFC raises its profile outside Europe and the SFI scheme becomes more familiar outside its native North America. Two-thirds of PEFC’s certified area is now outside Europe.

“PEFC endorsement is another indication of the strength and credibility of the SFI Program,” said SFB chairman Lawrence Selzer. “PEFC is the premier name in international forest certification, and their recognition of the SFI Standard will help promote sustainable forest management all over the world.”

PEFC secretary-general Ben Gunneberg agreed: “We welcome the endorsement of SFI as a major step forward; 180 million ha of forest are now certified by schemes that mutually recognise each other. This represents three-quarters of the world’s certified area and demonstrates the commitment of PEFC and SFI to promote sustainable forest management and its certification. This is also excellent news for the market which has been seeking assurances that its wood and paper products come from sustainable managed sources.”

The SFI Program is a comprehensive system of forestry principles, objectives and performance measures developed by professional foresters, conservationists, and scientists. It combines the sustained growing and harvesting of trees with the long-term protection of wildlife, plants, soil and water quality. SFI was adopted by the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) in 1994 and launched in 1995. Participation in the programme became a condition of AF&PA membership from January 1996 and, since then, AF&PA has asked 18 members to leave for failing to meet the SFI Standard.

SFI third-party certification requires formal documentation of conformance to the SFI Standard conducted by an independent, qualified audit firm. SFI third-party certification is conducted according to the standards of the SFI Audit Procedures and Qualifications (set by the SFB) and under the guidelines set by the International Standards Organisation in ISO 19011.

In its 10th annual report in 2005, SFI announced 211 participants and 90,773 loggers trained in best management practices since 1995 when its outreach programme began. The education and outreach component is geared toward all forest owners and requires the public release of an annual progress report. The objectives call on participants to foster the practice of sustainable forestry on all forestlands; publicly report on their progress; and provide opportunities for public outreach.

A group of 18 independent experts representing conservation, environmental, professional, academic and public organisations comprise the independent External Review Panel. Its mission is to provide a framework to conduct an independent review of the SFI Program and to ensure the annual report fairly states the status of SFI Program implementation. The volunteer panel provides external oversight while seeking steady improvements in sustainable forestry practices.

As the newly-established PEFC-US governing body, the SFB, in conjunction with the AF&PA and the American Forest Foundation, will host the 2006 PEFC General Assembly in Portland, Oregon.