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Forest certification schemes

The New Zealand plantation forest industry was one of the first to embrace the concept of forest certification.

The industry has largely thrown its weight behind the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification scheme with the first certificates awarded in 1998. Ten years later in 2008, most of the larger forest companies are either FSC certified or working towards FSC certification.

In New Zealand, the concept of sustainable management has been enshrined in legislation since 1991.

The purpose of the Resource Management Act (RMA) is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources.

Sustainable management in the context of the RMA means managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural well being.

These concepts are almost without exception central to the purpose and objectives outlined in the various forestry certification schemes that are now actively subscribed to on the international stage.

An example is the adoption of New Zealand Forest Owner’s Association Environmental Code of Practice that is now recognised as a key criterion for successful forest certification.

Increasingly the decision to become certified is driven by government initiatives in the areas of procurement of paper and wood based products for Government and other public agencies, as well as sustainable building initiatives.

These initiatives are now beginning to influence private sector businesses in the way they think about their tenure of products through secure chain of custody practices at a domestic level.

forest certification


Voluntary for New Zealand Grown Species.

The CAN/CSA-Z809 Sustainable Forest Management Standard (SFM) is a voluntary standard that was developed by an open and transparent multi-stakeholder consensus-based process based on the international Helsinki and Montreal processes.

It incorporates Canada’s own SFM criteria, which were developed by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, as well as requiring the development of locally adapted indicators through a public consultation process.

The Standard links adaptive forest management to forest certification through 3 key requirements: Performance Requirements.

  • Public Participation Requirements
  • System Requirements
  • Development process

The standard was first published in 1996 through an open and inclusive process managed by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).

A quarter of the CSA SFM Technical Committee was comprised of forest producers including woodlot owners, while the remainder were scientists, academics, representatives of Provincial and Federal Governments, and environmental, consumer, union and aboriginal representatives.

The current version of the standard, Z809-V2, was published in December 2002 following extensive review that was required within 5 years of the original publication date.

Similar to other certification standards, the CSA Standard has system requirements that are consistent with the internationally recognised ISO 14001 EMS standard but also sets out performance requirements that must be specific to each local forest.

The principle of “continual improvement” is central to the standard which uses adaptive management procedures that recognise SFM as a dynamic process that must incorporate new knowledge acquired through time, experience and research and must evolve with society’s changing environmental, social and economic values.

To become certified a company must go through a 3rd party independent audit of the SFM requirements plus annual reviews and a full re-registration is required every 3 years.

Chain of custody certification is available to entities for linking the forests certified under CAN/CSA Z-809 to forest products and consumers.

This is undertaken via PEFC Annex 4 and certificate holders can apply to use the CSA SFM product mark or the PEFC product mark.

CAN/CSA Z-809 certification currently covers approximately 80 forests with a total area of 78m hectares throughout Canada. There are currently about 60 CSA Chain of Custody certificates.


To provide a taste of CAN/CSA Z-809 requirements, these have been summarised below:

  • Sustainable Forest Management Requirements (general requirements and required activities
  • Public Participation Requirements (basic requirements, interested parties, process, content, communication)
  • SFM Performance Requirements
  • Conservation of Biological Diversity
  • Maintenance and Enhancement of Forest Ecosystem Condition and Productivity
  • Conservation of Soil and Water Resources
  • Forest Ecosystem Contributions to Global Ecological Cycles
  • Multiple Benefits to Society
  • Accepting Society’s Responsibility for Sustainable Development
  • SFM System Requirements – The Continual Improvement Loop

CAN/CSA Z-809 is unlikely to have relevance for New Zealand in the future unless New Zealand develops its own forestry standard and seeks recognition via the PEFC route.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the only truly international forest certification scheme.

The programme has certified over 100 million hectares in more than 70 countries. This includes over 950 Forest Management/Chain of Custody (FM/COC) certificates and over 9,000 chain of custody (COC) certificates.

The stated mission of FSC is to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests. It does this through an extensive stakeholder consultative process that sets international standards and accredits independent third party certification bodies to undertake the certification work.


FSC had it’s genesis in 1990 when a meeting of timber users, traders and representatives of environmental and human-rights organisations established the need for a honest and credible system for identifying well-managed forests as acceptable sources of forest products.

The FSC Founding Assembly of 130 participants from 26 countries was held in Toronto in 1993 and the first FSC Board of Directors was elected. The first FSC certificates were issued in Mexico and the USA in 1993 and forest owners and wood products processing companies are now widely represented across all continents.

FM/COC certificates in New Zealand are, by the nature of our industry, plantation focused and interest was first awakened during 1996/1997 and followed with the first certificates issued to Craigpine Timber Limited (FM/COC and COC) and Rayonier NZ Southland (FM/COC) in 1998. Both companies were certified under the SGS Qualifor programme and both continue as certificate holders to this day.


FM/COC certification involves an inspection of the forest management unit to assess whether the management of the forest complies with the internationally-agreed FSC Principles:

  • Compliance with laws and FSC Principles
  • Tenure and use rights and responsibilities
  • Indigenous peoples’ rights.
  • Community relations and worker’s rights.
  • Benefits from the forest
  • Environmental impact
  • Management plan
  • Monitoring and assessment
  • Maintenance of high conservation value forests
  • Plantations

When satisfied that compliance has been achieved the certification body issues a certificate that gives the certified company the right to claim that the products they produce come from responsibly managed forests managed to the requirements of the FSC standard.

COC certification provides a guarantee that the production of FSC certified products through the successive stages of processing, transformation, manufacturing and distribution to the consumer, maintains the integrity of those products as FSC certified.

Certified companies can promote themselves as CoC certified and can license use of the FSC labels.

FSC encourages and recognises national initiatives for the development of national standards.

Voluntary for New Zealand Grown Species.

The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation founded to promote sustainably managed forests through third party certification.

The programme has certified around 200 million hectares of forest in more than 19 countries and issued approximately 3900 chain of custody (COC) certificates.

PEFC is the global umbrella organisation for the assessment of and mutual recognition of national forest certification schemes developed in a multi-stakeholder process. For example, the Australian Forestry Standard has been developed in this manner and has been recognised under the PEFC programme.

To date PEFC has in its membership 35 independent national forest certification systems of which 25 have been through the assessment process.

PEFC has a vision, mission and goals which focus on sustainable forest management, market access, economic benefit and rural development for communities and organisations that belong to and are beneficiaries of the organisation.

PEFC has developed a framework for standards setting that must be separate from the accreditation and certification process and is initiated by national forest owners’ organisations or national forestry sector organisations having support of the major forest owners’ organisations in that country.

PEFC accredits independent third party certification bodies to undertake the certification work.

PEFC was launched in Paris in 1999 by representatives of 11 officially constituted national PEFC governing bodies and supported by associations representing 15 million woodland owners in Europe and many international forest industry and trade organisations. By the end of 2000 PEFC had endorsed 5 Scandinavian and European forest certification schemes and issued its first logo licences. Australia joined in 2002 and its Australian Forestry Standard was endorsed in 2004.

Minimum requirements

Rather than the establishment of a prescriptive forest management standard, PEFC activities are controlled under the PEFC Technical Document. A series of minimum requirements are defined to ensure national schemes can be developed and recognised that ensure equivalency and comparability. These cover:

  • Scheme development
  • Certification criteria
  • Scheme implementation
  • Audit and certification procedures
  • Chain of custody certification
  • PEFC Council endorsement and mutual recognition procedures

Certification criteria

The certification criteria cover all relevant aspects of sustainable forest management and forest functions including economic, ecological and social functions. They cover the conditions of forests and elements of management or administrative systems which are relevant for the implementation of Sustainable Forest Management in their area of activity for example, Pan European Operational Level Guidelines for schemes in Europe,

ATO/ITTO Principles, criteria and indicators for the sustainable forest management of African natural tropical forests for schemes in Africa.

Once a national scheme has been endorsed certification by an independent 3rd party certification body can be undertaken.

COC certification is required from suppliers of forest based products which use the PEFC claims and declarations on the content of PEFC certified raw material in their products.


Voluntary for New Zealand Grown Species.

The American Tree Farm System (ATFS) is a programme of the American Forest Foundation that is committed to sustaining forests, watershed and healthy habitats through the power of private stewardship.

Currently the ATFS has 11.1 million ha of privately owned forest land and 87,000 family forest owners who are committed to excellence in forest stewardship through the certification programme.

The programme is only operational in America.

About ATFS

The American Forest Foundation (AFF) is a national non-profit organisation that works for healthy forests, quality environmental education and to help people make informed decisions about their communities and the world.

ATFS has a mission “to promote the growing of renewable forest resources on private lands while protecting environmental benefits and increasing public understanding of all benefits of productive forestry”.

ATFS has established standards and guidelines for property owners to meet to become a certified Tree Farm. Under these standards and guidelines, private forest owners must develop a management plan based on strict environmental standards and pass an inspection by an ATFS volunteer forester every five years.

ATFS is probably the oldest forest certification programme operational today. The ATFS was established in 1941 by private forest owners who felt that America’s forests were being cut at unsustainable rates without reforestation.

The first tree farm was designated in Montesano, Washington and to this day owners must pledge to maintain their land for clean water and healthy watersheds, abundant wildlife, and recreation as well as wood.

ATFS is now active in virtually all forested states in the USA and owners only become members after a verification process by a professional forester.

The ATFS has no relevance for New Zealand except that products from an ATFS forest could reach New Zealand through a chain of custody verified process.

ATFS offers third party chain of custody certification through the PEFC Annex 4 standard.

Like most other credible other certification schemes, third parties must be accredited by an independent accreditation programme and in America this is ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board which is notified by the US PEFC National Governing Body, SFI Inc.

Standards and Guidelines

The certification process incorporates established standards and guidelines that cover:

  • Ensuring sustainable forests
  • Compliance with laws
  • Commitment to practicing sustainable forestry
  • Reforestation
  • Air, water and soil protection
  • Fish, wildlife and biodiversity
  • Forest aesthetics
  • Protect special sites
  • Wood fibre harvest and other operation.

These are known as standards and each contains performance measures and indicators.

Customers of a third party certified ATFS forest can seek chain of custody certification and entitlement to use the PEFC logo only for off-product use. Logo use is controlled via the PEFC National Governing Body, SFI Inc. and ATFS does not offer on-product labeling opportunities.

Voluntary for New Zealand Grown Species.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) was originally designed as a code of conduct for the forests products industry in the United States when in 1994 the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) was charged with developing a programme to “visibly improve industrial forestry practices and report results”.

The “Sustainable Forestry Initiative Principles and Implementation Guidelines” were adopted, and shortly after AF&PA members began to implement these SFI principles.


An Expert Review Panel, later renamed the External Review Panel, was established in 1995 to advise the SFI programme and the first biannual meeting of SFI National Forum was also held in that year.

In 1998 the “SFI Guidelines” were expanded into a “standard”, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standard (SFIS), complete with procedures and third-party certification.

In 2000 the American Forest Foundation (AFF) and AF&PA signed a mutual recognition agreement that brought the SFI programme and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) together and the Sustainable Forestry Board (SFB) was established to oversee the SFI standard.

The SFB formally adopted the 2005-2009 Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standard (SFIS) in 2005 and the standard is now enhanced with new provisions on old growth, international procurement, invasive exotic species, imperiled and critically imperiled species, landscape assessments, wood supply chain monitoring, and social issues.

In 2006 the SFI was endorsed by the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) and is now a fully independent organisation with over 220 programme participants representing 55 million ha forest area of which over 50 million ha is independently 3rd party certified, and 37 State Regional and Provincial SFI Implementation Committees.

SFI is unlikely to have relevance for New Zealand in the future unless New Zealand develops its own forestry standard and seeks recognition via the PEFC route.

Programme goals

Programme goals are:

  • Extend programme reach
  • Broaden sustainable forestry practices through procurement systems
  • Prompt reforestation to ensure long-term productivity
  • Continual improvement in standards and practices.

Principles of sustainable forestry

SFI certification involves an independent 3rd party inspection of the forest management unit to assess whether the management of the forest complies with the 9 principles of sustainable forestry:

  1. Sustainable Forestry.
  2. Responsible Practices.
  3. Reforestation and Productive Capacity.
  4. Forest Health and Productivity.
  5. Long-term Forest and Soil Productivity.
  6. Protection of Water Resources.
  7. Protection of Special Sites and Biological Diversity.
  8. Legal Compliance.
  9. Continual Improvement.

When satisfied that compliance has been achieved the certification body issues a certificate that is valid for 5 years and is subject to annual surveillance audits.

Companies that wish to demonstrate that they trade in SFI certified forest products may seek chain of custody certification. This is available to manufacturers of forest products, paper merchants, brokers, printers and publishers.