The certified-forestry movement is running out of steam, a United Nations report suggests.
"The pace of expansion of global certified forest area has slowed dramatically in the last three years," says the international agency's recently released Forest Products Annual Market Review, 2008-2009. The proportion of "industrial roundwood" coming from forests certified by such environmental organizations as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has actually decreased recently, to 25.9%, it says.
"Certified forest area increased by around 50 million hectares a year between 2001 and 2005 – mainly due to a rapid increase in certified forest area in North America – then the rate slowed by half to 25 million hectares a year in 2006 and 2007. More recently the rate has stagnated even further, not exceeding 4 million hectares between May 2008 and May 2009." Certified forestry has actually lost some ground in North America and Europe, the U.N. report adds.
One culprit is that the sustainable-forestry movement is running out of low-hanging fruit: "Now that many of the largest state- and industry-owned lands in the developed world are already
certified, the certification movement faces the significant challenge of expanding in more difficult
areas" such as small forestry operations and developing countries.
Ignorance is another hurdle: "According to a recent survey, only 12% of US family forest owners have heard of forest certification."
From a financial standpoint, sellers of wood products often cannot justify the additional costs of sourcing from certified forests: "Generally, there is great reluctance among end-users to pay premiums for certified or verified legal wood products, a situation which places significant limits
on the ability of suppliers to charge more."
Only some fairly specialized markets have price premiums for certified products. In Europe, FSC-certified tropical wood from Africa and Brazil carries the highest premiums, 20% to 50% above the prices for non-certified products, the report says.
One growth area is chain-of-custody certifications, up 41% in the past year. Numerous printers and paper companies tout their chain-of-custody certifications as evidence of their green-ness without mentioning whether they actually use any certified fiber or paper.
The U.N. study does not address the correlation between certification and sustainable forestry. (See "Does FSC certification help the earth?" for more on this question.) There appear to be many sustainably managed forests that are not certified and some certified forests that are not sustainably managed.
The major forest-certification schemes need to overcome the perception that they are only for large land owners that can afford the administrative costs (or, in some countries, the bribery costs) of obtaining certification.