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Certification Gulf

A recent forest certification conference in New Brunswick illustrated the gulf that separates the certifiers, such as the FSC, from the certifiees-the forest companies.

By Harold Hatheway

The most intriguing part of the recent Forest Certification Conference in Fredericton, New Brunswick was watching J K Irving, who heads up forestry giant J D Irving Ltd., and Jean Arnold, spokesperson for the Maritime Initiative of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) stake out their respective positions. Everyone knew Irving had stopped using the hard-won FSC certification on its Black Brook operation-the source of Irving's significant shipments to retailing giant Home Depot, which recently made a qualified commitment to certified forestry products. Opposing media statements by Irving and FSC Maritimes focused attention on three events: Chief Forester Blake Brunsdon's presentation of the Irving position, FSC's presentation by Marcelo Levy (FSC Canada) and Jean Arnold (FSC Maritimes), plus a "nonconference" session by FSC Maritimes on its future. The conference, sponsored by the Premier's Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the Canadian Forestry Service, industry and woodlot associations, J D Irving, the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Fundy Model Forest, had grown from a modest workshop to 400 plus attendees. Industry (from stump to shelf), government, academic forestry, distributors, environmentalists, everyone was there, offering an impressive amount of information. It was, however, a three-ring circus.

First, the inevitable overviews: government policies (essentially cautious), trade experts (to date consumer demand seems to be in the single digits), and why ENGOs (environmental nongovernment organizations) were involved (land ethic, aboriginal rights and sustainability, among other reasons). Next, the explanations of major programs: the international Forest Stewardship Council, Canada's homegrown Canadian Standards Association, ISO 14000, SFI (Sustainable Forestry Industry-developed by US industry) and PEFC (the major European program). Then came the meat of the meeting, an almost overpowering flood of information from frontline Maritime and Maine industry representatives. One after another, they explained their perspective on certification, which program they had chosen and why, the impact on the workforce, what was in it for the company, and future directions. One point, made over and over again, was summarized in one of the slides presented by Irving's Blake Brunsdon: "Q: Why Certification? A: Customers are requesting certified products." It's worth noting that the "customers" referred to are not the end consumers but the wholesale buyers and distributors. In Irving's case there is the threat of losing large volume sales to Home Depot as a result of the dispute over the status of the Black Brook operation, which has been supplying the US building supplies chain's demand for "certified" wood. Speaker after speaker made it clear that, without the perceived threat of end buyer non acceptance, wholesale buyers would have little interest in certified forest products and the forest  industry would have continued progress towards sustainable forestry at a pace and in a way largely dictated by individual governments-themselves moving at a rate dictated by environmental and public pressure.

Two of FSC's crown jewels, COC (Chain of Custody) and the much debated "green" labelling, were seen as industry threats. Obviously the latter is meaningless unless the former is clear and credible-and thereby hangs at least one major problem. Assuming agreement on what constitutes a "sustainably managed forest" (and that's a large assumption), it is certainly possible to track a piece of solid wood from such a forest to the retail sale, and guarantee this with a recognized label. But move to composite products: oriented strand board, plywood, chipboard or-the ultimate-pulp and paper, and there are serious logistical and financial implications. Successful examples do exist-a vertically integrated Scandinavian company is producing COC "green" paper. But most, perhaps all, North American pulp and paper operations now use chips extensively. These chips are drawn from a variety of operations and sawmills over a wide area, and having to certify that every chip meets complex Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) requirements is a daunting, and costly, challenge. A shared concern was the growing complexity of standards, regulations and reporting, including government controls, clean water acts, licensing of chemicals, reserved areas and other regulations that are intensive on Crown land and inching steadily into private operations. The idea of an additional set of rules, into which you had only limited input, which had to be approved by some "outside" body- with a head office in Mexico (the FSC)- simply didn't sit well.

This, combined with the obvious added costs which conference speakers made clear were not acceptable to most consumers, had created a great deal of concern, some fear and obvious lack of enthusiasm. Nevertheless, with a couple of exceptions, speakers indicated that they were prepared to learn, and to do what was necessary. The FSC and Irving presentations were separated in both time and approach. Marcelo Levy of FSC Canada presented an overview of the national organization, followed by Jean Arnold's description of the Maritime "Initiative". Levy's presentation was low-key and rather academic, while Arnold chose to outline the founding and growth of FSC in the region, up to but not including the Irving difficulty, leaving the audience somewhat frustrated, and hoping the "offline" session that evening might be more enlightening. Irving's Brunsdon clearly came prepared to let it all hang out, stating frankly that the company's interest in certification was specifically driven by the demands of wholesale buyers like Home Depot. It's a complicated story from there. Irving originally contacted Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) of California, obtained certification of the Black Brook operation and subsequent approval by FSC International. That was appealed by the Sierra Club on the grounds that Irving was using Garlon (a chlorinated hydrocarbon) contrary to FSC standards. "As soon as our certifier (SCS) notified us that FSC prohibits any product that has chlorine in the chemistry...we stopped using it," Brunsdon insisted.

But the appeal was lost on a timing technicality anyway. Then FSC Maritimes developed regional standards, in excess of the international guidelines, which Irving attacked as "impractical" for regional operators. Brunsdon, who continues to sit on the FSC Maritime Regional Committee, filed an appeal with FSC International, which rejected the appeal and approved the regional standards, but with specific conditions. These include a review of the controversial no biocide rule within a year and the appointment of an international representative to "guide" the Maritime group through the restructuring of a "more broadly based" committee, with a more acceptable "process". At the unofficial session, it was obvious that FSC Maritimes' recruiting campaign for "more representative" members would endeavour to build support for its controversial standards. Brunsdon, committed to remaining active on the Maritime Committee, says Irving will reconsider FSC certification if and when the problems of standards, representation and process are resolved. What's next? Committee restructuring sometime this spring and reconsideration of the biocide clause after a year. But the clarification of this internal FSC confusion may take longer than industry can afford, especially considering that there are implications for the industry far beyond the Maritimes.


The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) appears to be on the side of the angels, working toward the day when all forest management, harvesting and products comply with strict environmental, social, legal and economic standards. Its mandatory ten "Principles and Criteria" developed by the founders are "universal in nature and apply to tropical, temperate and boreal forests". That is a breadth some critics see as a serious flaw, although FSC explains that "the Principles and Criteria are used as a guiding framework for developing standards which are appropriate to social, ecological and economic conditions at national and/or regional levels." However, the international scope, differing tactics and motives within this group and the enormous industry and trade implications of the proposed process guarantee strong differences of opinion-inside and out. After three years of intensive discussions and negotiations, a broad range of representatives from 25 countries formed the Forestry Stewardship Council in 1993. Members, who must accept the FSC's ten International Principles and Criteria, comprise a wide range of individuals and groups divided into environmental, social and economic "houses", which must agree on major issues, using a voting process balanced on a North South-as in hemispheres-basis. The international body exercises ultimate control over national and regional operating standards developed by Canada's Working Group and the Maritime Initiative. Unfortunately, at least in the Maritimes, who will develop these regional standards, and how, was not made clear, with the result that what looked like a leap forward degenerated into a standoff-with no simple solution.


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