Supply Chain Sleuths: Partnership Helps Preserve Integrity of Certified Forest Products

Recent action by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) to suspend a major charcoal producer in Europe is one outcome of the FSC and Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) partnership. This collaboration aims at using forensic wood science to investigate supply chainsAlex C. Wiedenhoeft, Research Botanist and Team Leader in FPL’s Center for Wood Anatomy Research (CWAR), has led the CWAR side of a multi-year, award-winning research cooperation between FSC and FPL. Wiedenhoeft and his team conducted the forensic analysis of the contested charcoal.

Specimens of lump charcoal displayed on a specimen submission form.

At issue was whether charcoal appearing on the retail market with the FSC label was in fact sourced from FSC-certified forests.  “Working with investigators within the FSC supply chain integrity team, our forensic results about the botanical origin of the charcoal showed that the species composition of the charcoal was or was not consistent with the species claim,” said Wiedenhoeft.  “As with most forensic applications of botany, the bulk of the work is done by the real-world investigators, whether law enforcement or industrial auditors. Forensic wood science steps in at the evidence analysis phase to give the investigators solid data to inform their investigation.”

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FPL Researchers Honored by Forest Stewardship Council

The Forest Stewardship Council, the world’s leading forest certification system, announced its 2017 FSC Leadership Awards in a celebration at Greenbuild. Recognizing enduring commitment to forest conservation, the award shines a light on people, companies and buildings that are breaking new ground and promoting responsible forest management.

The Forest Products Laboratory’s Center for Wood Anatomy Research was honored with a FSC Leadership Award “for applying state-of-the-art forensic wood science to verify the accuracy of FSC claims on more than 1,000 products annually.” Continue reading

Forensic Fact-Checking of Certified Wood Products

When consumers buy a certified product, they expect it to be exactly what it claims to be. In order to maintain their consumers’ trust, suppliers of these goods often bring in an independent third party to verify that what is being sold is exactly what was promised.


Forensic wood science is being employed to verify supply chain integrity. (Photo on right courtesy of Gary Dodge.)

Researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory’s (FPL) Center for Wood Anatomy Research are serving as such a third party in partnership with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). More than 456 million forested acres in 80 countries are certified to FSC standards, and more than 40,000 forest products companies participate in their certification system.

FPL researchers are developing and applying forensic wood scientific approaches to verify industry claims and enhance supply chain integrity of FSC-certified wood products, among several other objectives.

Forensic wood science techniques will be employed in the laboratory for every product that is tested. Some products are submitted for testing by FSC, and some are purchased directly by FPL in the open market for evaluation.

For more on the background, objectives, and expected outcomes of this project, please read this Research In Progress report.



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.