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Published: 13 April 1999

What is a "certified forest product"? Who supports certification and who opposes it? These and many other questions are answered in a new study published under the aegis of the UN/ECE Timber Committee and FAO European Forestry Commission. This discussion paper1 which focuses on the development, status, and potential future of forest certification was written by two renown experts in the field, Dr. Eric Hansen of Oregon State University and Dr. Heikki Juslin of the University of Helsinki.

"The status of forest certification in the ECE region" further covers the historical development of forest certification including an explanation of the perspectives of various stakeholders and the resulting tension and conflict. This paper provides an objective overview of the motives and preferences of stakeholders (forest owners and managers, forest industry, industrial customers, retailers, consumers and environmental non-governmental organizations).

Multiple certification and certification-like schemes now exist in the ECE region with many others, especially in western Europe, under development. These schemes are generally designed to improve as well as document sustainable forest management practices.

What is a "certified forest product"? It is a forest product bearing a certificate which demonstrates, in a verifiable manner, that it comes from a forest which is managed sustainably. Certification is a way in which consumers and retailers can check the source and suppliers of goods. It is also a means for good forest managers to promote their products.

However defining what exactly is meant by "sustainably managed," and setting up fair and credible systems to verify that a product is in fact produced sustainably, poses many problems and has been the cause of much tension in the forest sector, at all levels. As a result, many different forms of certification currently exist. Although the concept of certification appears to carry much momentum, the form that will eventually be accepted in the marketplace is unclear.

Certification has become a highly political issue with strong support from environmental NGOs and retailer groups, but outright rejection by some forest owners and processors. Capacity to set up viable certification systems varies widely, as the relative cost of certification is much higher for small forest owners. It is only to avoid the imposition of systems less acceptable to them that forest owners are starting to develop their own system. For the time being, demand for certified products is not coming from final consumers of wood and paper products, but rather from retailers seeking to anticipate their customers' wishes. It is some forest industries hoping to gain market shares, that embrace certification, while others reject it due to low demand. The climate of opinion about certification also varies strongly between countries.

Environmental marketing in the forest industry and the role of certification in environmental marketing strategies is addressed. The paper gives also examples of individual company experiences in marketing certified forest products and related issues, both positive such as market access, image, credibility, premiums and networking as well as negative such as limited and fragmented market demand, lack of supply, limited industry involvement and difficulties to obtain price premiums. A summary of the major certification efforts in the ECE region is provided along with a discussion of the potential future of forest certification.

In conclusion the authors offer their recommendations for mutual recognition and harmonization of schemes. The last chapters provide a comprehensive list of sources for additional information, including websites, for further information into this rapidly evolving subject.

The Discussion Paper expands upon the special chapter that Dr. Hansen wrote for the most recent "Forest products annual market review" titled the "Certified forest products marketplace"2. It is part of a continuing effort by the UN/ECE and FAO to monitor trends in markets for certified forest products, an important new market sector, which has only recently started to get the attention it deserves.

For any further information please contact:

Mr. Ed Pepke

Timber Section, Trade Division
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
Palais des Nations
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Telephone: (+ 41 22) 917 2872
Fax: (+ 41 22) 917 0041
E-mail: Ed.Pepke@unece.org
Website: http://www.unece.org/trade/timber

1 Hansen, Eric and Heikki Juslin. "The status of forest certification in the ECE region," Geneva Timber and Forest Discussion Papers, 1999, ECE/TIM/DP/14, 44 pages.

2 "Forest products annual market review", Timber Bulletin, ECE/TIM/BULL/5/3, 1998, 94 pages.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

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