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July August 2004

Guest Column

Chain of custody plays a major role in maintaining consumer confidence in certification programs

By Paul McFarlane

Forest certification demonstrates that forests are well, or “sustainably,” managed in accordance with the performance standards developed by various forest certification agencies. Over the past decade there has been a rapid increase in the area of certified forests and by this past December the four major certification schemes had certified approximately 156 million hectares of the world’s forests. This is more than an eight-fold increase in area over the last four years—approximately four per cent of the world’s forests are now third-party certified. The four major certification programs and their respective areas of third-party certified forests as at December 2003 are: the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC, previously known as the Pan European Forest Certification scheme) with 48.5 million hectares certified; the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) with 40 million hectares; the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) with 39 million hectares and; Canadian Standards Association National Sustainable Forest Management Standard (CSA) with 28.4 million hectares The major certification programs operating in Canada are CSA, SFI and FSC. A survey of the status of certification in Canada undertaken in December 2003 revealed that 57.6 million hectares of forestland had been certified, making Canada the country with the largest area of thirdparty certified forests in the world. The four programs listed above have developed varying approaches to certification. However, each scheme incorporates aspects of the following three principal elements:

Forest Certification, whereby forest management is assessed against a pre-determined set of criteria, indicators and verifiers.

Chain of Custody (CoC), which provides confirmation that an eco-labeled product has originated from a certified forest.

Eco-labels that identify products originating from certified forests and have satisfied CoC guidelines.

Chain of Custody Chain of custody is a method for tracking material from certified forests to the consumer in the market place. It covers the entire value chain from the forest, through manufacturing to the consumer, and includes all stages of processing and distribution. The major objective of the chain of custody is to ensure that only products from forests that have been certified as being either “sustainably managed” or “well managed” can be identified by an eco-label in the marketplace. Chain of custody is therefore an essential element that links the standards for well-managed forests to the certification program labels used to identify products for consumers. Chain of custody plays a major role in maintaining consumer confidence in the certification programs and it is an important means of addressing issues associated with wood from controversial sources.

Chain of Custody and Eco-labeling Options Conceptually, there are three principal chain of custody options. Some certification schemes do not apply all options.

Option 1: Segregated Wood Flow Wood, fibre and wood products originating from certified forests are received, clearly documented and physically segregated into certified and uncertified batches. Separate batch processing ensures that these materials remain segregated within the mill. Separation and clear identification and documentation of the certified product is also required at each step along the value chain from forest to market. Effectively, this option enables an eco-label to claim that 100 per cent of the material originated from certified forests.

Option 2: Percentage Mass of Total Wood Flow This approach means that when a known percentage certified material (eg 70 per cent certified material by mass) enters the mill, the same percentage (eg 70 per cent product by mass) of the output is labeled as certified product. A minimum threshold for the content of certified product is usually set and no wood from controversial sources may be processed. This option enables an eco-label to claim that the product promotes sustainable forestry, is from non-controversial sources but contains less than 100 per cent certified material.

Option 3: Minimum Threshold Percentage of Total Wood Under this option, the total batch of products can be considered to be certified product if the amount of certified material in the input batch exceeds a set minimum average threshold. This minimum threshold is usually in the vicinity of 70 per cent by volume or weight. As with option 2, no wood from controversial sources may be processed. This option also enables an eco-label to claim that the product promotes sustainable forestry, is from non-controversial sources but contains a specified percentage of certified product.

New Developments There is some evidence that the awarding of Chain of Custody certificates has proven to be a bottleneck in the delivery of certified products to the marketplace. Concern has also been expressed about how recycled and uncertified materials have been dealt with. Consequently, several schemes are now reviewing how certified products are tracked and labeled. Topics being addressed by these reviews include: tracking of wood products during processing; eco-labeling of wood products; inclusion of uncertified wood in the chain of custody; how recycled wood and fibre are tracked and labeled. One means of streamlining the delivery of certified forest products to the market is to adopt rapid labeling and scanning technologies that uniquely identify the certified forest products and permit them to be rapidly tracked and accounted for as they move along the value chain. Research to develop such a technology is presently underway at the University of British Columbia with the support of the Sustainable Forest Management Network. In 2005 it is intended that this technology will be trialed in a BC sawmill.

Dr Paul McFarlane is Professor and Head of the Department of Wood Science at the University of British Columbia.

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