Sustainable Forestry and Certification Programs in the United States

November 2015

By the American Forest & Paper Association

The paper on Sustainable Forestry and Certification Programs in the United States provides an overview of sustainable forestry and forest certification programs in the United States. It is intended to serve as a general reference document, providing third party factual information for forest product company employees, customers, the general public, and other interested stakeholders.

Sustainable forest management practices on U.S. forests ensure healthy and abundant forests for present and future generations, while providing renewable natural raw materials for the production of pulp and environmentally beneficial, recyclable paper and packaging products and energy-efficient building materials. While deforestation is occurring in other countries, there is more standing wood on U.S. forestlands today than there was a half century ago.

The majority of wood fiber-based manufacturing operations in the U.S. are supplied by fiber from numerous, diverse private land ownerships. Sustainable forestry on these lands is ensured largely by the strong U.S. rule of law, which is reinforced through the highly successful use of voluntary best management practices. Forest certification programs, while not essential to ensuring a sustainable fiber supply, have played an important role in promoting and establishing sustainable forestry.

Forest certification programs provide a set of standards, or guidelines and structure, for sustainable forest management. These include forest certification, wood fiber sourcing, and chain-of-custody standards. Forest land management standards ensure certified forest land is managed according to sustainable practices, as defined by the forest certification system. Wood fiber sourcing standards, which can apply to suppliers and to manufacturers’ wood procurement operations, ensure fiber is purchased from responsible sources, and promotes sustainable practices on non-certified lands. Chain-of-custody standards apply to suppliers and manufacturers, require the tracking of certified fiber through the supply chain, and allow use of certified content claims and labels on products.

Within the U.S. there are four primary forest certification bodies: the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC); the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Inc. (SFI); the American Tree Farm System (ATFS); and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). PEFC is a global umbrella organization and the world’s largest forest certification system. It endorses 33 national certification systems and more than 615 million acres of certified forests. SFI is a North American PEFC-endorsed standard that offers forest land management, fiber sourcing and chain-of-custody standards. SFI is the world’s largest single forest land management certification standard, with approximately 63 million certified acres in the U.S. and over 240 million certified acres in the U.S. and Canada. ATFS, a PEFC-endorsed system, is the oldest U.S. forest land management certification program, with 82 thousand woodland owners and 24 million certified acres. Fiber harvested from ATFS lands can be recognized under the PEFC and SFI chain-of- custody certificates. FSC International is a global forestry certification organization that sets national and regional standards. FSC International has approximately 450 million certified acres worldwide, with 35 million acres (8%) in the U.S. FSC offers forest management, controlled wood and chain-of-custody certification.

There is significant public documentation comparing different aspects of the available certification programs. According to the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), the ATFS, FSC-U.S. and SFI systems all include “fundamental elements of credibility and all make positive contributions to forest sustainability.” NASF has stressed that none of these systems credibly can claim to be the best and any program promoting itself as the only option would lose credibility.

Despite the overall similarity, there are variations within the systems. The SFI and FSCU.S. systems vary in terms of standards related to clearcutting, chemical use and plantations, among other topics. Detailed comparison charts can be found in: Differences between FSC and SFI Certification Standards for Forest Management;3 Comparing Forest Certification Standards in the U.S.; Economic Analysis and Practical Considerations; and SFI and FSC Certification in North America – A Summary Comparison.

In conclusion, sustainable forestry on U.S. forest lands is largely assured by the strong rule of law in place in the U.S. and highly successful implementation of voluntary BMPs. Thus, direct certification of these lands is not necessarily essential to ensuring a sustainable fiber supply. When purchasing forest-based products, consumer products goods companies should be aware of the variations in the standards and look beyond the certification label to the specific requirements of the certification and consider the overall sustainability of the forests where the fiber is sourced. There is no consensus preference for one certification program; all programs reviewed in this paper play a significant role in promoting and advancing sustainable and responsible forestry.

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