Why Support Group Certification?
Two factors discourage owners of small timberland tracts from seeking certification: cost and complexity. The majority of private landowners in the US South own 50 acres or less and are therefore unable to justify the cost of certification in the absence of a price or market share advantage. These same private landowners typically work outside the forestry industry and own their land for investment or recreational purposes. As such, these individuals oftentimes do not have either the time or resources it takes to understand detailed certification standards.
Group forest certification programs were created to reduce these barriers to certification. Forestland owners who join together toward the shared goal of certification reduce individual cost burdens and improve operational efficiencies. Companies that require certified wood raw materials and forest products can leverage their resources to sponsor group certification.
What Organizations Offer Group Certification?
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) offer group certification. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) recognize the ATFS program under their standards.
Each program, either a Forest Management Group through FSC or an Independently Managed Group through ATFS, is fairly flexible in regards to how the groups are formed. Both require that a single group manager—either an individual or an organization—take responsibility as the designated point of contact between the group members and the certification body. The group manager holds the certificate on behalf of the group members, and examples of his or her responsibilities include :
- Recruiting group members and managing group membership
- Establishing membership guidelines and group operating procedures
- Communicating responsibilities to group members
- Documenting group membership and forests
- Preparing forest management plans
- Applying for group certification with a certification body
- Maintaining records and reporting
- Conducting ongoing monitoring
In return, group members are responsible for acting in accordance with established group rules and managing their forests per the requirements of the chosen program (FSC or ATFS).
Challenges to Group Certification
Establishing group certification has its advantages, but by the same token, it is not an easy task to accomplish. Significant investment of both time and resources is required to administer these groups. Traditional forest products companies can sometimes charge their on-staff foresters with administering group certification programs in an identified procurement zone. Bioenergy companies that are unlikely to have procurement foresters may turn to other parties familiar with the industry such as consultants or brokers to manage a group for certification.
After a group certification program is implemented, how does a company stop a competitor (that invested nothing to create the group) from procuring feedstock from the landowners within the group? Building in rights of first refusal or limiting sales of certified feedstock to the group certificate holder are possible ways to limit this liability.
Group Certification Partnerships
Both the SFI and the ATFS have experienced success partnering with private companies to promote the certification of small-to-medium size forests in the South. The SFI’s Forest Partners Program — an initiative between the SFI and publishers Time, National Geographic, MacMillan and Pearson — have set out to make “certification more efficient and accessible by providing resources for activities such as shared consulting expertise, group certification, audit coordination and other innovations.”
Meanwhile, the ATFS has partnered with Weyerhaueser, Domtar, Kapstone, Louisiana Pacific, Rock Tenn, Resolute, Enviva and Culp Lumber to contribute to a certification outreach campaign conducted by the North Carolina Forest Service. Read more about these programs in Suz-Anne Kinney’s blog post ATFS and SFI Form Partnerships to Promote Certification.