Forest Certification Watch: What have been the key accomplishments of the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) since its launch in 1999?

Ben Gunneberg (BG): PEFC has grown from nine national schemes to 27 – including six outside Europe. Of these, 13 independent national schemes have completed assessment and been endorsed and now deliver certified timber from 52 million ha and over 1,200 chain of custody certificates have been issued. Although PEFC started as a model for Europe, it can be applied to national schemes outside Europe, so PEFC has become global too.

Certification Watch: In the past PEFC has been concerned at its treament by public authorities and the fact some questioned its credibility. Do those concerns persist, particularly with regard to the UK government’s new Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET)?

BG: As public authorities do their own homework, they realise that they have been misinformed by vested interests. They are now realising that PEFC is a very good system worthy of their support. PEFC is generally recognised as a credible and good model for mutual recognition of national certification schemes, as stated by Pekka Patosaari, head of the United Nations Forum on Forests recently. If the CPET is seen to be impartial and objective it will be good news for all credible forest certification schemes.

Certification Watch: How are the relations between PEFC and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)?

BG: The relationship is as one might expect between any competitors – respectful. I have had a gentlemen’s agreement with FSC director-generals that we don’t get into a slanging match. The problem is not the schemes, but some of their advocates pushing their interests and creating certification wars.

I think the competition between the PEFC and FSC is a very good thing. Both have developed because of it. But we need co-operation too and to date this has been easier at national level. In Germany, FSC Germany and PEFC Germany commissioned the Professor Thoroe report to look at dual certification. This showed that there wasn’t much difference between the two in certification delivery on the ground. In Sweden, the Stock Dove was an excellent exercise in increasing stakeholder understanding of both schemes. Another collaboration is via the FAO and Forest Dialogue-sponsored certification scheme CEO’s forum. This allowed SFI, CSA, ATFS, Certfor Chile, Cerflor, MTCC, FSC and PEFC to identify where we will hopefully collaborate in the future.

People ask why can’t we just have one global scheme. This is like asking why we can’t have one global currency or state. The answer is because forests are so diverse, biologically and in geographical, geological, social, cultural heritage, management and ownership structure. You need forest certification to reflect local reality.

Certification Watch: Do you contemplate the use of the PEFC logo outside Europe?

BG: The logo is already being used in Japan and there are now accredited certifiers for the international PEFC chain of custody who are certifying Japanese importers. These companies have also applied for licences to use the PEFC logo.

Certification Watch: What do you think about mutual recognition and “legitimacy thresholds models” to cope with the existence of several certification schemes?

BG: The mutual recognition debate is moving on and if buyers and customers start specifying several credible schemes, a lot of the issues won’t be so hot.

The promotion of a legitimacy threshold model demonstrates that the forest industry is taking sustainable forest management (SFM) seriously and is looking for a solution to get several credible schemes accepted by customers. The aim is to promote better understanding and dialogue between stakeholders.

Certification Watch: Why has certification evolved so fast?

BG: The process has evolved quickly because forest certification is no longer seen as a threat but as an opportunity. It improves management and provides independent third-party verification of that fact. It promotes better understanding and relationships between stakeholders and it should improve market access when compared to other competitor materials.

Certification Watch: Beyond the figures of areas brought under certification and the increasing use of PEFC chain of custody and labelling, what are the benefits brought by PEFC?

BG: Among forest owners and other stakeholders it has brought an increase in self-confidence, and in looking holistically at issues surrounding SFM and its implementation on the ground. There have also been greater communication and co-operation among stakeholders within and between countries.

Certification Watch: And the PEFC in five years?

BG: I see PEFC as a dominant, but not the only, global player in the forest certification arena. It will be more visible in the market, being used for communication purposes in promoting the whole forestry sector.

I hope that the debate will have moved on to more technical rather than emotional issues so that stakeholders can concentrate on tackling the factors behind deforestation and on promoting the benefits of using timber from certified SFM in the market place.

Certification is a key communications tool. Over the last 100 years Britain has more than doubled its forest area. However, a recent Forestry Commission survey shows that only 13% of the public believes the area is increasing. The forestry sector still has a lot of communication work to do and forest certification will help.