Practical Guidance on Forest Certification | WWF

Practical Guidance on Forest Certification

What is forest certification ?

Forest Certification is a process that leads to the issuing of a certificate by an independent party, which verifies that an area of forest is managed to a defined standard.

Forest certification can provide an assurance that forestry operations are in compliance with relevant laws. It can also assure traceability where the certification system has chain of custody requirements that oblige certificate holders to track all of their logs from certified forests and where chain of custody systems at points along the supply chain are required to ensure against unreported intermingling of the certified wood with uncertified or illegally sourced wood.

Steps to Achieve Forest Certification

Certification is a process which involves a number of different steps, which typically include the following components:

Step 1: Contacting certifier
The forest manager decides to seek certification because they anticipate some benefits in terms of improved market access, image or forest management, and contact a certifier.

Step 2: Preliminary Assessment
Certifier usually makes a visit to the operation and carries out a preliminary assessment of the feasibility and cost of certification. A preliminary report is given to the forest manager. Alternatively the forest manager may decide to hire other forest experts to conduct an assessment and develop an action plan to identify steps that would need to be taken to improve management and become certified.

Step 3: Main Assessment
If the forest manager decides to proceed, a full assessment is carried out. In this assessment, a team of specialists with social, environmental and forest management expertise will be engaged by the certifier. These specialists will check all aspects of forest management against a set of standards to identify areas where management meets the standards, as well as problem areas where improvements will be needed in order to achieve good management.

Step 4: Report & Peer Review
The result of this assessment is a certification report which is normally peer reviewed. The report will recommend one of the following to the certifier:
1. Unconditional certification
2. Certification subject to some preconditions
3. Certification followed by some corrective actions 
4. No certification
The difference between point 2 and point 3 is that in the case of point 2, the preconditions have to be fulfilled before certification can be granted whereas in the case of point 3, corrective actions can be implemented within an agreed time frame after certification. A certifier may recommend both preconditions and corrective actions.

Step 5 : Certification
The certifier analyses the certification report and if it is positive (i.e. not point 4) discusses a time frame for implementation of preconditions and/or corrective actions with the forest manager. If this discussion is successful, a certification contract is signed. This contract specifies the rights and responsibilities of both parties in terms of public communication etc. It also specifies the forest area which has been certified, and the length of time for which the certificate is valid (usually five years, but secured on the basis of annual surveillance visits by the certifier).

Step 6: Chain of Custody
If product labeling is desired by the forest organization or its clients (i.e. timber buyers), the certifier must complete a Chain of Custody assessment. The purpose of this is to ensure that adequate and reliable mechanisms are in place to track wood from the certified forest along the processing and distribution chain, to the final consumer. By auditing each step in the supply chain, CoC certification assures consumers that the certified products they buy were indeed produced from wood originating in a certified forest. Learn more about Chain of Custody certification.

Step 7: Periodic Surveillance
Periodic repeat surveillance visits (usually conducted on an annual basis) are made by the certifier. The time taken from an initial assessment to achieving certified status will vary according to the extent of changes in management and operating practices and the will and capacity to implement such changes. However experience has shown that operations managing tropical forest which are committed to the process may take between two to four years to achieve certified status.

Certification for Small / Community Forests

Constraints on small forest enterprises wishing to certify their forest include cost, compliance with complex standards, and access to information and advice. Group certification aims to overcome these problems by pulling together a number of small forest areas under a single ‘group manager’ who acts both as a source of information and is also able to organize a certification process which allows each individual group member to benefit from the economies of scale of being part of a larger group.