Certifiably Sustainable: Systems That Safeguard Forests

Researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) work with several different certification authorities when developing new technology.

Researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) work with several different certification authorities when developing new technology.

Unlike metals and fossil-fuel-based products (such as plastics), our forest resource is renewable and with proper management a flow of wood products can be maintained indefinitely.

The importance of forest-based products to our economy and standard of living is hard to overemphasize — half of all major industrial raw materials we use in the United States come from forests.

However, the sustainability of this resource requires forestry and harvesting practices that ensure the long-term health and diversity of our forests. Unfortunately, sustainable practices have not always been applied in the past, nor are they universally applied around the world today.

Architects, product designers, material specifiers, and homeowners are increasingly asking for building products that are certified to be from a sustainable source.For the forest products sector, the result of this demand has been the formation of forest certification programs. These programs not only ensure that the forest resource is harvested in a sustainable fashion but also that issues of biodiversity, habitat protection, and indigenous peoples rights are included in land management plans.

More than 50 different forest certification systems in the world today represent over 700 million acres of forest land and more than 15,000 companies marketing certified products. These programs represent about 8% of the global forest area and 13% of managed forests. From 2007 to 2008, the world’s certified forest area grew by nearly 8%. North America has certified more than one-third of its forests and Europe more than 50% of its forests; however, Africa and Asia have certified less than 0.1%

Approximately 80% to 90% of the world’s certified forests are located in the northern hemisphere, where two thirds of the world’s roundwood is produced. In North America, five major certification systems are used.

  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
  • Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)
  • American Tree Farm System (ATFS)
  • Canadian Standards Association (CSA)
  • Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) schemes.

In terms of acreage under certification, the FSC and the SFI dominate in the United States. These two systems evolved from different perspectives of sustainability. The FSC’s guidelines are geared more to preserver natural systems while allowing for careful harvest, whereas the SFI’s guidelines are aimed at encouraging fiber productivity while allowing for conservation of resources.

The growing trends in green building are helping drive certification in the construction market in the United States. Helpful online tools provide more information and data on forest certification, including the Forest Certification Resource Center and Forest Products Annual Market Review.

For more information, please see The Wood Handbook, Wood as an Engineering Material.