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Transforming the landscape
Autumn 2007
Published:  07 December, 2007

CPET rates SFI-certified timber as “legal and sustainable”

In the third of a series on the various sustainable timber certification schemes, Rupert Oliver of Forest Industries Intelligence examines the Sustainable Forestry Initiative

In April this year, at the end of his tenure as a board member of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Inc, Steven McCormick wrote a letter to his former colleagues. In explaining “why the SFI program is so important in the US”, McCormick noted that “it directly impacts tens of millions of acres of industry and government land, and, perhaps even more importantly, indirectly impacts hundreds of millions of acres of family-owned forests. It is the broadest mechanism we have at our disposal to reach out and positively impact the management practices of non-industrial landowners.”

McCormick was enthusiastic about the positive role played by the SFI Program to improve forestry practices in the US: “SFI has truly helped raise the forestry bar across the continent. And SFI has done its part in the critical work of helping to conserve imperilled species and communities on program participant lands”.

Perhaps it is not so surprising that a former board member should be so enthusiastic about an organisation he has helped to shape. But what makes these comments so significant is that Steven McCormick also happens to be the president and chief executive officer of The Nature Conservancy, a leading international conservation organisation with around one million supporters and members. There are few organisations more credible than The Nature Conservancy, which was recently rated in a US public opinion poll as the most trusted amongst 13 leading non-profit organisations (scoring well above other environmental groups such as Greenpeace).

This high level of recognition for the SFI Program’s leadership role to promote good forestry practices in North America is beginning to filter through into wider international recognition for SFI certified forest products. In December 2005, the SFI Program was endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). SFI, which has certified over 55 million ha of forest land in the US and Canada, now accounts for over a quarter of the 200 million ha of PEFC certified forests worldwide. Assessments by the UK government’s Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET) rate timber derived from SFI certified forest lands as “legal and sustainable”. SFI also scores maximum credits for responsible sourcing under the BREEAM environmental rating system for buildings.

McCormick’s reference to the “complete transition in SFI governance” alludes to a major shift in organisational responsibilities within the SFI Program. On January 1 this year, the Program became a fully autonomous and independent forest certification system. Prior to the start of this year, responsibility for governance of the Program was shared between the Sustainable Forestry Board (SFB) and the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA). Authority over the SFI Standard was exercised by the 15-member SFB, an independent entity which consisted of one-third SFI Program participants, one-third conservation and environmental community interests, and one-third broader forestry community representation. AF&PA took responsibility for other aspects of the program such as licensing, marketing and promotion. Under the new arrangements, AF&PA plays no role in the administration of the program and a new entity, SFI Inc, has been established as the sole governing body. The Board of SFI Inc maintains the same balance of interests as the SFB.

More than 55 million ha of forest land in North America is SFI-certified
New accreditation procedures for certifiers have also been introduced this year to ensure full conformance to the highest international standards. Previously, the SFI Program relied on professional auditors accredited to assess environmental management systems (EMS) by two US-based agencies— the Registrar Accreditation Board and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Now assessments must be undertaken by ANSI-accredited certification bodies with specific competence to audit against the SFI Program and PEFC chain of custody standards. Already this year four certification bodies have been accredited under the new procedures: Bureau Veritas Certification North America Inc; KPMG Performance Registrar Inc; NSF International; and the Quality Management Institute.

Over the years, the SFI standard has been refined and extended to ensure continuous improvement in forest management practices. The current standard, applicable during the period 2005 to 2009, details 34 Performance Measures with 103 required indicators. The standard represents a consensus view of SFI Inc board members and was developed through a public consultation process. It also incorporates the outcomes of the intergovernmental Montreal Process for the sustainable management of temperate and boreal forests. For the purposes of PEFC endorsement, the standard has been assessed as fully conforming to the Pan European Operational Level Guidelines for Sustainable Forest Management (PEOLG), an outcome of the Third Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE).

Owing to differing levels of brand recognition in target markets and the variety of wood sourcing strategies of SFI Program participants, the SFI Program now provides a range of chain of custody and labelling options. Participants wishing to use the PEFC label must be assessed as in conformance to the PEFC international chain of custody standard. The certification body must be accredited by an organisation recognised by the International Accreditation Forum (IAF). Participants wishing to use the SFI per cent content labels must implement the SFI chain of custody requirements and be assessed by an ANSI-accredited certification body.

The SFI chain of custody standard is largely based on the PEFC international chain of custody standard with some differences in terminology to reflect North American conditions. Due to the close links between the SFI and PEFC chain of custody standards, program participants have the option to implement a single chain of custody certification that conforms to both SFI and PEFC chain of custody requirements. SFI-PEFC chain of custody holders are some of the biggest names in the international forest products industry including: International Paper; Sappi Fine Papers; Stora Enso North America; UPM Kymmene; Boise Cascade; International Forest Products Ltd; and JELD-WEN Inc.

A unique feature of the SFI Program compared to other certification systems is the obligation it places on participants to promote sustainable practices in all regions where they buy timber. To augment the efforts of individual members, SFI has established a network of alliances with both state and private sector institutions that are also involved in promoting sustainable practices to non-industrial land owners. To ensure effective co-ordination of various schemes to promote sustainable forestry, participants have led the way in forming SFI Implementation Committees with representatives of a diverse range of interests in 37 states, provinces and regions throughout the US and Canada.

It is through such mechanisms that certification may be transformed from a mere marketing tool for an elite band of top performing corporations into a force that can alter the attitude of a whole industry and shape the development of whole landscapes for years to come. It is this which fuels the enthusiasm of people like Steven McCormick.

Keywords: CPET SFI certification