Canada: The Evolution of Sustainable Forest Management Certification Standards

Last Updated: October 16 2001
Article by Bruce McIntyre

In January/February 2000, I wrote that, "In the future we will see fewer players, following a new set of rules on a larger, more aggressive international playing field." The subject was the consolidation of forest products companies, but I could have just as easily been describing the array of competing environmental certification standards. Since that article appeared, the competition among proponents of various standards has, indeed, become more aggressive, not only in Canada, but around the world.

In this article, I will provide a brief update on trends in forestry certification and look to the future with some predictions about how the environmental movement will affect Canadian forest companies and whether a single universal standard can take hold in the marketplace.

The Impacts are Real and Ongoing

The following press headline gives us a taste of the type of rhetoric not uncommon in the current certification debate.

Headline: "WWF Report Says PEFC Does Not Comply With Basic Requirements for Forest Certification" (WWF Press Release, 04/02/01)

The tone is reminiscent of a negative ad campaign in an election. However, in this case the various parties are competing for the public's environmental vote, with dollar ballots to be cast though the purchasing power of the marketplace. This approach is by no means limited to Europe; North American standards are subject to challenge as well.

Forest and paper producers are feeling a more direct form of pressure to adopt environmental certification standards: the threat of lost business with major customers. Large-volume customers are being challenged across North America, Western Europe and elsewhere in the world, to "go green" or become the objects of highly publicized boycotts. Case in point during the last week of March, protesters hit 100 Staples stores across the U.S., and similar actions have been felt a numerous other forest products customers and industry annual meetings. Even financial institutions have been subjected to protests or Internet campaigns.

Over the past two years, top wood and paper users, including Home Depot, Lowes, Centex, Kinko's and others have committed to increase their use of recycled paper, eliminate the use of wood from old-growth or endangered forests and/or to give preference to products certified under one or more certification standards. According to ForestEthics, some 400 companies - including nearly 25% of the U.S. lumber market - have pledged to transform their approach to using wood and paper products.

A More Aggressive Playing Field

The big question for forest products companies and retailers is what forestry standard will be most acceptable in the marketplace? In North America, a number of prominent conservation players in the forestry debate approve of only one certification standard, that of the Forest Stewardship Counsil. Others support alternative standards such as the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). A key consideration for the industry is not only which standard is most technically appropriate for their operations, but which is being most effectively marketed, so that they maximize the return for every dollar invested in the certification process.

Beyond the discussion of what is the most appropriate forest management standard, a development that will make the situation even more interesting over the coming months is the advent of chain of custody and labelling programs for the major certification systems. A label is already available to organizations certified to the PEFC and FSC standards, a situation that has likely exacerbated the debate in Europe as to which system is superior. The playing field is also about to become more competitive in North America. The CSA and SFI standards are expected to introduce labels by the fall of 2001, in addition to the labelling program already available under the FSC. The credibility of each of thee systems is also enhanced by the fact that independent third-party audits are required under all three forestry standards to qualify for certification and use of the label.

Co-operation Allows for Conservation and Harvesting

The preservation versus harvesting debate is not always a battleground of irreconcilable differences. This year has seen some remarkable instances of agreement and even co-operation. The same week protesters struck retail outlets across the U.S., forest companies and environmentalists joined government and other stakeholders to announce an agreement on the conservation and sustainable management of portions of the Central Coast region of B.C. The region covers 5 million hectares (12.3 million acres). After years of acrimonious conflict, the agreement is intended to ensure new protected areas, emphasis on ecosystem-based planning and management, and areas of conflict-free harvesting. Balancing environmental, economic and social objectives will be a delicate task, however, as hundreds of jobs are also expected to be lost in the process.

Close on the heels of the B.C. agreement, Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources announced a bilateral process that could lead to FSC certification of all Crown-owned forests managed in compliance with Ontario law.

When Will We Have One Standard?

Can industry and environmental organizations ever agree to just one certification standard, one label, one set of procedures? The simple answer, I believe, is no. The competing interests of producers, customers, and non-government organizations, overlaid onto a vast range of ecological landscapes and political geographies, results in a mix that is just too diverse to fit into one standard. Mutual recognition initiatives and various research studies currently underway to scientifically assess the merits of different standards, may go some distance to resolving the different perspectives, but will not be the final word. Hard negotiation and compromise, two of the key ingredients in the Central Coast agreement in B.C., will still be needed to simplify, if not totally resolve the debate.

Much of the problem is due to different views on what constitutes good forest management from a technical perspective and philosophical differences on how far a forest certification standard should reach out to embrace diverse issues such as public involvement, social conditions, or private property rights. Even in cases where there would seem to be a choice of only two, e.g., which side of the road to drive on, nations agree to disagree. Environmental certification presents much more than a simple binary choice, on or off, Beta or VHS.

The field will dwindle to a handful or possibly just two major competitors as more producers and buyers decide on their preferences, and the leading schemes break away from the pack. Perhaps as soon as 2005, we will have just one industry choice and one environmental favourite. Whatever the outcome, the decision won't be based simply on technical merit (diehards still say Beta was better than VHS), but on a combination of factors such as industry requirements, marketing success, credibility of the audit process and customer preference, as well as direction from governments an other influential stakeholders.


This article first appeared in The Forestry Chronicle, May/June 2001, Vol. 77, No. 3.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.