Weaker Certification Schemes

Other forest industry driven certification schemes fail to meet basic performance indicators

Background - March 3, 2014
While the FSC faces challenges, we believe that it contains a framework, as well as principles and criteria, that can guarantee socially and ecologically responsible practices if implemented correctly. Greenpeace International does not believe that other forest certification systems, such as PEFC have the ability to ensure responsible forest management. These systems lack robust requirements to protect social and ecological values.

PEFC (The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification), and other industry led certification schemes[1] endorsed by PEFC, fail to distinguish between responsible and irresponsible forest management. Controversies abound in PEFC certified forest management operations, including the violation of indigenous peoples' rights and the loss of important habitats for endangered species.

On 3 March 2014, the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) announced its endorsement of China’s National Forest Certification System (CFCC) and Greenpeace International is concerned once again that PEFC is giving green cover to schemes that do not deliver good forest management on the ground.

Greenpeace International does not believe that the PEFC, as well as other similar industry-led forest management and products certification systems, have the ability to ensure responsible forest management. These systems lack the robust requirements to protect the social and ecological values of forests, compounded by inequitable and weak stakeholder involvement in national standard development and the on-the-ground certification process.

In China, we are particularly concerned about transparency in the actual PEFC/CFCC certification process of forest management operations and whether there are safeguards to guarantee that interested and affected stakeholders will be properly consulted. Weak regulations are open to wide interpretation, allowing for 'so-called' low-yield natural forest and even some protected forest to be cleared and converted into plantations. Indeed, there are already cases of CFFC certifying plantations established where deforestation has occurred. Without a transparent certification process and strong PEFC/CFCC standards, China’s forests are even more at risk. This will not only impact the communities that depend on China’s forests, but also further damage PEFC's reputation.

FSC vs. Other forest certification schemes

FSC has been setting the bar high for ecologically and socially responsible forest management ever since its establishment in 1994. FSC has been setting the trend for particularly PEFC to follow. In 2010, PEFC updated its international forest management standard[2], which in many ways mimics FSC's forest management criteria. But PEFC will again have to play catch up as FSC's updated its international forest management standard in May 2011. However, a comparison of the two systems' forest management standard requirements clearly shows that FSC's minimum entry and certification requirements are more robust. Crucially, both the FSC's Policy for Association (PfA) and its controlled wood requirements - the minimum entry requirements for operators or wood entering FSC's system - are much stronger than PEFC's. FSC's ecological and social conditions are also more robust.

FSC's stronger standard requirements, compared to PEFC and its endorsed counterparts, indicate its greater potential for improving forest management, if its standards are properly interpreted and implemented. The following examples demonstrate where FSC's minimum entry and certification standard requirements are well above PEFC's.

1. Ecological requirements

FSC requires a precautionary approach to maintain and protect high conservation values, which means that the forest management need to ensure it maintains the biological values of the forest through its operational practices[3], including minimising the logging of trees. Whereas, PEFC's standard only directs forest operations to 'be conducted in a way that does not cause lasting damage to ecosystems. Wherever possible, practical measures shall be taken to improve or maintain biological diversity[4].

2. Free and prior informed consent by indigenous peoples

Unlike the PEFC, the FSC provides strong, performance-oriented requirements for the identification and protection of customary and traditional rights in all situations, including requirements for managers to obtain IP's FPIC and to secure FPIC through binding agreements. The PEFC's bottom-line requirement is merely that forest managers engage IPs when making forest management decisions – with the outcomes left entirely at the managers' discretion.

3. Unacceptable sources of wood supply

Although PEFC has expanded its definition of unacceptable sources, it is still narrower than what FSC considers 'uncontrolled wood', in effect limiting the assurance against violations regarding traditional and civil rights and High Conservation Value (HCVs) forest to situations where the local legislation is violated. Furthermore, independent analysis by NEPC in 2012 on the viability of PEFC as 'Controlled Wood' in the FSC system found that "[…] despite many similarities between the two systems, PEFC certified products do not currently offer adequate assurance for fulfilment of the FSC Controlled Wood requirements… Only three out of eighteen evaluated national PEFC Forest Management standards contain complete requirements to fulfil the FSC Controlled Wood requirements. The remaining national standards had issues of discrepancy with the FSC Controlled Wood system, in particular with respect to traditional and civil rights and forest conversion."[5]

4. Absolute minimum requirements

The Policy for Association (PfA) was adopted by FSC in 2009 to require any company - including the company entity - parent, sister and subsidiaries with a minimum of 50% ownership - it associates with to be committed to the basic fundamentals of responsible forest management[6]. PEFC has no such policy.

5. Conversion to monoculture plantations

The Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) Malaysian Criteria and Indicators for Forest Management Certification (Natural Forests) standard[7] - MC&I (Natural Forests) - criterion 6.10 allows for a certain percentage of the forest management unit to be converted every year with a total of 5% in the next 7 years. This is despite PEFC's standard requirement where it does not allow forest plantations established by forest conversion after 31 December 2010 to be certified; although PEFC identifies  several exceptional circumstances that allow for conversion and criteria that are vulnerable to wide interpretation as demonstrated by MC&I (Natural Forests) standard conversion allowance. This conversion rate is definitely not responsible as areas of natural forest that are converted into plantations can then also be certified under the MTCS plantations standard[8]. FSC's conversion policies are much stronger both on paper and in practice. MTCS has no such thing as a cut-off date for conversion against despite PEFC having its 2010 cut-off date. FSC requires that forest areas converted after 1994 normally do not qualify for certification.

Why PEFC doesn't match up to FSC

PEFC suffers from systemic problems that hide and obfuscate bad practices. The standards are vague and therefore weak, as they can be interpreted as desired by those with bad practices. Governance is controlled by and for the industry, with only token participation by other stakeholders and, audits and the dispute resolution system are likewise controlled by the very actors whose claims of sustainability they are supposed to verify. In other words, the PEFC and its endorsed systems were created to protect an entrenched logging industry. 

Until PEFC and similar schemes can credibly demonstrate good forest management performance on the ground that is supported by a wide range of stakeholders, the market will continue to see PEFC and the like as 'greenwashing' systems created to protect an entrenched logging industry.

On the ground concerns

A 2011 report demonstrated conclusively that PEFC and several of its endorsed systems around the world failed to meet basic performance measures[9]. PEFC has not provided any substantial rebuttal to the case study practices documented in the report. 'On the Ground 2011' showed that in many countries the most fundamental requirements that the public might expect from a certification system claiming responsible or sustainable forestry were violated under PEFC and SFI. For example, the study found:

  • Rampant logging of or destruction of important habitats and old-growth in Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, the USA, Canada, Chile, and Spain;
  • Conversion of natural forests to monoculture plantations in Malaysia, Chile, the USA and Canada;
  • Violations of the rights of indigenous peoples or local forest communities in Sweden, Canada, and Chile;
  • Soil loss and watershed damage in forests and plantations in Czech Republic, the USA, Chile, and Spain;
  • Dangerous levels of biocides (i.e., toxic chemicals) in forest management in the USA, Australia and Chile.

All of the above examples were rigorously researched and detailed in the report. There are numerous new allegations of controversial PEFC certifications around the world that are still to be documented, such as in British Columbia, where Island Timberlands is logging regionally rare old-growth forests that some threatened and endangered species rely on. Several local citizens' groups have challenged their plans. In Australia, ENGOs have documented how AFS the Australian Forest Certification Scheme (AFS - the PEFC endorsed national certification system in Australia) has been used to endorse logging practices that are driving endangered species such as the Leadbeater's possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) to extinction[10]. AFS has also been involved in the decades of logging and clear-felling of Tasmanian old-growth forests and currently a part of the resolution to this conflict is that the logging industry improves standards to an FSC-certified level.

At the same time, it is entirely possible that some PEFC forests are managed responsibly, but the credibility of a certification scheme is set by the weakest links in the chain - controversial certificates or endorsed national schemes by PEFC - and the certification systems themselves lack robust requirements to protect social and ecological values. Moreover, PEFC and the other industry-led schemes may simply be incapable, due to its industry-dominated governance or other problems, to fix bad certifications, or deny certifications to bad actors.

Holding weaker schemes accountable

Weaker environmental performance behind a green label creates confusion in the marketplace. Companies who are leaders in terms of environmental performance suffer when green washers are able to reap the same premium for a "greener" product.  

However, although Greenpeace does not actively engage in PEFC standard-setting processes because of PEFC's past and current poor performance on the ground and the lack of trust of its governance we do hold weaker schemes associated with PEFC accountable for their bad practices, like these three recent examples:

Most recently in May 2013, Greenpeace co-filed with ForestEthics a false advertising complaint[11] against SFI (PEFC in North America – PEFC has endorsed the SFI forest management standard but it has not endorsed SFI's Chain-of-Custody rules or practices)[12] with the U.S. Government's Federal Trade Commission. Amongst other critiques, the complaint contrasted SFI's claims of independence with direct material connections to the forestry and paper products industry[13]. The vast majority of its funding comes from the largest timber and paper companies.

In the Netherlands Greenpeace is part of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) coalition that successfully engaged in a stakeholder consultation testing certification schemes against the Dutch procurement criteria, which determines what kind of certification scheme and wood products it is o.k. for the Dutch government and its agencies to buy. This consultation led to the exclusion of Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) certification scheme - the PEFC endorsed national certification system in Malaysia - from the Dutch's government's procurement policy[14]. This exclusion was linked to the NGO coalition profiling evidence showing that forest conversion, lack of Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) from indigenous forest dwelling communities and unavailability of maps of the certified areas are current bad practices under MTCS. The Malaysian Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities and the organisation that manages the MTCS, the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC), established an agreement with the Dutch government on what needed to change in order for its schemed to be recognised. An analysis commissioned by the Dutch NGO coalition of the new standard, MC&I (Natural Forests), published on 13th January 2012[15] shows that MTCC has not resolved those issues and the MTCS is still not recognised by the Dutch government as a responsible certification scheme for forest management and wood products.   One of the main reasons being that in Malaysia, MTCS only applies FPIC in practice when indigenous peoples rights are recognized by the state, which is hardly ever the case. The state's exclusive claim over forest lands is contested and many claims for forest reserves for indigenous forest dwelling peoples such as the Orang Asli, remain outstanding. A recently leaked report on Orang Asli land rights by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission confirms this[16].


PEFC's efforts to improve participation by major environmental and social groups will continue to fail because most will remain untrusting of the system and will continue to reject participating in the system until, at the very least, PEFC demonstrates a dramatic improvement of responsible forest practices on the ground.

The recent examples cited of unsustainable forest practices under the PEFC umbrella, highlight the dramatic improvements needed in PEFC's on-the-ground performance, before being considered a credible rival to FSC.

[1] PEFC here refers to the family of PEFC-endorsed schemes and its own endorsed standards. http://www.pefc.org/resources/organizational-documents/other-documents/422-pefc-endorsed-national-forest-certification-systems as last seen on 18 June 2013. There are 33 schemes endorsed by PEFC such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI – forest management only), Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC), Brazilian Forest Certification Programme (CERFLOR), Chile Forest Certification Corporation (CERTFOR) and the Australian Forest Certification Scheme (AFS).

[2] http://www.pefc.org/images/documents/PEFC_ST_1003_2010_SFM__Requirements_2010_11_26.pdf
The PEFC standard's issue date is 2010-11-26.

[3] Criteria 9.3 https://ic.fsc.org/principles-and-criteria.34.htm
Approval date 10 February 2012.

[4] Criteria 5.4.10: http://www.pefc.org/standards/technical-documentation/pefc-international-standards-2010/676
Sustainable Forest Management (PEFC ST 1003:2010)

[5] NepCon. Comparative analysis of the PEFC system with FSC Controlled Wood requirements. 15 May 2012.

[6] https://ic.fsc.org/policy-for-association.315.htm

[7] Malaysian Criteria and Indicators for Forest Management Certification (Natural Forest)
The publication date of the new standard was 13 January 2012 and application date is 1 July 2012.

[8] Malaysian Criteria and Indicators For Forest Management Certification (Forests Plantations) [MC&I (Forest Plantations)]

[9] http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/forests/On%20The%20Ground%2017_10_11.pdf

[10] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/may/26/logging-pushing-possum-towards-extinction

[11] http://forestethics.org/sites/forestethics.huang.radicaldesigns.org/files/SFI_FTC_complaint.pdf text of complaint; and http://greenpeaceblogs.org/2013/06/06/greenpeace-and-forestethics-file-false-advertising-complaint-against-sfi-greenwashing/

[12] http://www.pefc.org/resources/organizational-documents/other-documents/422-pefc-endorsed-national-forest-certification-systems as last seen on 18 June 2013.

[13] http://greenpeaceblogs.org/2013/06/06/greenpeace-and-forestethics-file-false-advertising-complaint-against-sfi-greenwashing/

[14] http://www.tpac.smk.nl/32/home.html

[15] Malaysian Criteria and Indicators for Forest Management Certification (Natural Forest)
The publication date of the new standard was 13 January 2012 and application date is 1 July 2012.

[16] Full report available at: http://sarawakreport.org/suhakam/suhakam-chapter8.html