Wood Certification Programs

Wood Certification Programs and Sustainable Forestry

By Rise
Jun 26, 2020

Several forest certification programs in the United States and Canada develop forest management standards and issue certificates to forestry operators who comply with the program's criteria. These programs focus on protecting biodiversity within our forests, risks to water, species, and wildlife, ensuring harvest levels are sustainable, and that reforestation occurs. So why does this matter to us, and why should it matter to you? When building and designing a home or room, the end goal typically isn't just about functionality but also about telling a story. A story that leads with color, texture, shape, and contrast is why it's so important to choose the right product.

Wood, one of the primary materials used in home construction, has its own story to tell. Many of us don't think about the processes that go into the finished product, whether it's side paneling or a dining table set, from the forest to our door. That's where wood certification programs come in. These programs aim to consider the management of wood and minimize any detrimental impact on the environment and society while ensuring its place in the global economy.

forest branches

Why Should We Care About Sustainable Forestry?

As it turns out, our wood home furnishings, buildings, projects, etc., can have a sizeable impact. We all know wood comes from a forest, but what effects do forests have on the environment, on society, or even on the economy? Around 30% of all landmass is currently a forested area, which serves as complex ecological systems for both people and wildlife. Forests are also crucial for offsetting carbon emissions. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the forest sector contributes to 86 million jobs worldwide. An improperly managed forest can cause many problems. These include the loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, unsafe drinking water, threats to species of trees, increased global warming, and disruption and displacement of local communities. In short, we humans depend on plentiful and healthy forests. Responsible forest management helps end harmful practices and secures the quality and regeneration capacity of forests.

While it's not possible to ask wood from where it originated, we can rely on another method. Wood certification programs are third-party organizations that set criteria based on rigorous standards for managing and producing sustainable forests. An independent audit is then provided to enable accurate and transparent commitment. Some certification programs require tracking of the entire supply chain, while others look more at management practices. Certified wood can cost more - estimated prices are generally 10%-20% more - due to auditing costs and additional work involved in tracking the chain of custody.

sunny forest

The Five Largest Wood Certification Programs

Not all wood certification programs are alike, and not all hold the same level of accountability. There are upwards of 50 forest certification programs, and only ten percent of all forested areas are certified. The US National Association of State Foresters asserts that "credible forest certification programs include the following fundamental elements: 

  • That they have independent governance
  • That they are a multi-stakeholder standard
  • That certification be independent
  • That there be a clear process for complaints/appeals 
  • That there be open participation and transparency.

When choosing wood for your home improvement project, it's important to look for one of these stamps of approval to support sustainable forest management.

FSC logo

Forest Stewardship Council

As the most well-known certification program in the US, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) covers 380 million acres of certified land. FSC is a non-profit organization with a mission to "promote environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically prosperous management of the world's forests." The certification program has some of the more strict guidelines than other forest certifications that include principles that address legal issues, indigenous rights, labor rights, and an environmental impact assessment about land management.

Forest Stewardship Council Certification

FSC's chain-of-custody certification follows all the steps a products takes through the supply chain. FSC is the original (and initially, the only) recognized certification program for ensuring wood meets sustainability criteria accepted by the US Green Building Council's LEED rating systems. The Forest Stewardship Council website helps buyers source sustainable paper, lumber, flooring, deck, fence boards, doors, and windows, to name a few.

SFI logo

Sustainable Forestry Initiative

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is another non-profit organization. The SFI standard covers more than 364 million acres of certified forests in North America. It collectively works with land owned and managed by private, public, academic, indigenous, and conservation interests. The program aims to promote a grassroots movement that fosters community engagement and education.

Sustainable Forestry Initiative Certifications

SFI offers three main certifications: 

  • Forest management certification
  • Fiber sourcing certification
  • Chain-of-custody certification

While initially not one of the recognized sustainability criteria for wood and paper products for the LEED rating system, as of April 2016, SFI was recognized as a credible sustainable forest management program.

ATFS logo

American Tree Farm System

The American Tree Farm System is the oldest US land management certification system in the US. American Tree Farm System (ATFS) has a network of 70,000 tree farmers and 19 million acres of forested area. The administration, operated under the American Forest Foundation, is a network of "forest landowners, volunteer members of state and local committees and associations, national and state government agencies, inspecting foresters, forestry consultants, natural resource professionals, and private industry."

American Tree Farm System Certification

Certification is for forest owners with contiguous properties ranging between 10 to 10,000 acres. The forests are required to meet eight standards of sustainability. The ATFS program is also now recognized by the US Green Building Council to meet LEED's criteria for sustainably sourced wood.

PEFC logo

Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification

With the certification of about 800 million acres of land, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is the world's largest forest certification system. Based in Switzerland, PEFC is a non-profit umbrella organization incorporating the international sustainability benchmark criteria into its land management standards. The non-profit tailors to the specific needs of smaller, family, and community-owned forests to contribute to livelihoods and rural development. According to PEFC, to date, several hundred-thousand family- and community-owned forests have acquired PEFC certification. The checklist to receive certification from PEFC covers stakeholder involvement, forestry requirements, chain-of-custody requirements, and third-party certification and accreditation requirements.

CSA SFM logo

Canadian Standards Association Sustainable Forest Management

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) is an organization that worked to develop Canada's national standard for sustainable forest management. The certification requires recognition of environmental, economic, social, and cultural values, conservation of biological diversity, and; ongoing public participation. The standards are developed upon the collaboration of national and international laws and regulations and the involvement of public advisory groups. The CSA SFM user group is separate from the CSA group and is now managed through the PEFC program listed above. The CSA SFM group has managed over 98 million acres of certified forested areas in Canada.

Which One Is Best?

According to the US National Association of State Foresters: "No certification program can credibly claim to be 'best,' and no certification program that promotes itself as the only certification option can maintain credibility. Forest ecosystems are complex, and a simplistic 'one size fits all approach to certification cannot address all sustainability needs."

Bottom Line

Wood is a beautiful, renewable material. When managed responsibly, there can be many benefits. Rather than figure out which certification program is best, look for any of the certification mentioned above labels. You will feel good about being picky and choosing the best, responsible wood for your home.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-11-19T03:48:28+0000