Thirty years ago I wrote an article for TTJ on forest certi­fication. It stated that there was demand for this ‘newfangled’ idea and big name organisations wanted to make it happen.

Since then I’ve been involved in various programmes to increase certi­fied forest area and develop approaches and policies to expand markets for legal and sustainable forest products. Part of me feels a sense of achievement, with millions of hectares now certi­fied and FSC and PEFC both widely speci­fied. But in the last decade I’ve also had a nagging doubt.

In this time, we’ve seen a decline in the rate of growth of certi­ cation and trying to make forest certi­fication work everywhere and for everyone who wants it has been a losing battle. Where the big certi­fication schemes seem to have come unstuck is in their impact amongst private forest owners.

This bugs me because only around 10% of the world’s production forests have been certi­fied under any scheme and the vast majority of these are either state owned lands or large privately owned forests. That leaves a huge gap and it’s mostly ­ filled by small owners who just don’t seem attracted to the idea.

In the US alone we’re talking of millions of private owners in hardwood supply. Does the uncerti­fied 90% of the world’s forests represent all the bad forest practices or are some of them getting along ­ ne without certi­fication? There has to be a way to differentiate.

There have been numerous attempts to make existing certi­fication schemes attractive to smallholders. But is it time to try something different, to identify where there are issues and where there are good practices built on good governance?

Being indoctrinated in forest management unit certi­fication, where a forest management plan is central to the process, the idea of risk assessments and approaches that assess a whole landscape or `jurisdiction’ initially made me tremor. But I’ve spent the last 18 months helping the American Hardwood Export Councilinitiated Sustainable Hardwood Coalition (SHC) to develop a risk assessment standard focusing on nonindustrial hardwood producers.

Working with a ‘Standards Endorsement Body’ has helped keep things honest. Input from 10 individuals well versed in US hardwood forestry and trade has ensured the emerging standard is well focused and will guide risk assessments that are a fair re- ection of practices among smaller hardwood forest owners. Once the standard is live, the next challenge will be to see if mills can mitigate identi­fied risks.

The aim by 2025 is a new type of certi­fication, founded on risk assessments of US hardwood producing states, with risks mitigated at sawmill level along with a new chain of custody system. It will be compatible with and accepting of material certi­fied under other schemes and it will encompass large volumes, reducing costs to mills and buyers’ frustration in sourcing certi­fied hardwoods.

Over time SHC should grow into a self-supporting organisation backed by a coalition of supporters determined to deliver sustainable hardwoods to market and to be a part of a scheme that represents the best of what we’ve learnt about certi­fication, that draws together the best of good forest governance and all existing efforts to recognise legal and sustainable forestry. ­