In the first of a series of articles on timber environmental certification schemes, Rupert Oliver looks at the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)
The PEFC is currently the world’s largest forest certification network. It’s scheme for providing assurance that wood products derive from sustainably managed forests is based on an international framework for “mutual recognitionof national and regional forest certification systems. To date it has endorsed 22 forest certification systems covering 193 million ha of forest in 21 countries.
UK Interest in PEFC has grown rapidly and William Walker of the PEFC UK secretariat describes it as an “exciting timefor the scheme.
“PEFC has now come of age,he said. “The level of enquiries has grown from a trickle only 18 months ago to a constant stream.
Walker highlights the impact of the UK government’s latest timber procurement policy, demanding that all timber used in public sector contracts comes from verified legal and, preferably sustainable sources. PEFC-certified timber is recognised by the UK government’s Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET) as meeting its for “legal and sustainablecriteria.
Using PEFC-certified timber also contributes significantly to getting improved BREEAM ratings. Following the recent positive assessment of the scheme by CPET, supporters of PEFC seem confident that BRE will soon amend the “responsible sourcingsection of the BREEAM standard to give it parity with other forest certification schemes, notably the FSC.
National forest certification schemes endorsed by PEFC have to conform to detailed technical requirements. One is that forest certification standards must be aligned with inter-governmental principles for sustainable forest management developed for various regions of the world. For example, standards developed for European forests are aligned to the guidelines for sustainable forestry agreed by European governments.
The TTF estimates that 37% of softwood imported into the UK in 2005 was PEFC certified
PEFC-endorsed national forest certification standards must also be based on a consensus-building process with all local stakeholders in accordance with the rules set out in ISO Guide 59. To use the internationally registered PEFC logo, companies must conform to chain of custody standards . The scheme demands that both forest operations and chain of custody are assessed by independent third-party certification bodies operating to ISO rules. And they must be recognised by national accreditation bodies, such as UKAS in the UK. As a result of widespread PEFC certification in Finland and Sweden, significant volumes of PEFC-certified softwood products are readily available in the UK. In fact, the Timber Trade Federation (TTF) estimates that as much as 37% of the 7.6 million m3 of softwood sawn lumber imported into the UK in 2005 was PEFC certified. And 29% of softwood plywood imports into the UK also carried the PEFC logo.
The PEFC trademark can be used by companies that confirm to chain of custody standards
PEFC-certified hardwood has been less readily available, although this is beginning to change. According to the TTF , only 3.6% of UK imports of sawn hardwood were certified to PEFC schemes in 2005, all of it from European and Canadian forests. But more recently, UK traders report that German and French hardwood suppliers have been supplying PEFC-certified oak and beech as standard with no price premium. Reflecting the growth in supplies the number of PEFC chain of custody certificates issued in the UK has risen from around 50 two years ago to 350 today. At present no UK domestic forests are PEFC certified. This reflects the decision in 1998 by the UK Forestry Commission (FC) to pursue certification through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) framework. So wood products sourced primarily from domestic forests – notably panel products such as MDF, OSB and chipboard - are not readily available PEFC-certified.
But with rising UK demand for PEFC-certified products, it seems likely that pressure will mount on the Forestry Commission to pursue dual FSC/PEFC certification.
Technically this would present no challenge since the UK’s national environmental certification scheme, the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS), to which FC woodland is certified, is compliant with both PEFC and FSC rules. To be able to use the PEFC logo on its timber, the FC would only have to have an additional audit by a certification body recognised through the PEFC framework.
A key strength of PEFC has been its willingness to adapt standards and procedures in response to customer requirements. For example, in response to rising concern about illegal logging in some areas, it recently toughened standards to prevent wood from controversial sources being used in PEFC-labelled products.
Of particular relevance to the UK construction sector, PEFC, as the FSC has just done (p36), is developing procedures for “named projectcertification to cope with the realities of building projects involving many subcontractors. It is often extremely difficult to ensure that all subcontractors, especially smaller companies, are chain of custody certified. “Named projectcertification will enable fully verified one-off claims to be made about the volume of PEFC wood used in a particular project by the contractor or the client. Walker expects procedures to be finalised by October.
The PEFC’s process of adaptation and development looks set to continue. As a consequence of the recent rapid expansion which has transformed it from a relatively small, European-based initiative into a fully-fledged global scheme secretary general Ben Gunneberg said the organisation is reviewing its operations and “taking a good close look at itself internally”.
PEFC is consulting its members and other interests as a prelude to developing a new mission statement and strategy to be presented for endorsement by members in October. The process aims to: ensure global recognition of PEFC; improve market access; provide value for money; increase organisation effectiveness and efficiency; strengthen the membership; generate sustainable financing; and promote sustainable forestry and certification generally. A key theme, said Gunneberg, is that the PEFC should remain “very much customer focused”.
PEFC fact file
Certified forest area
o 193 million ha in 21 countries
o Mainly Europe and softwood-producing areas of North and South America
Availability of certified wood
o Chain of custody certificates in the UK increased from 50 to 350 in 18 months
o Large volumes of softwood sawn lumber and plywood available
o European oak and beech and some Canadian sawn lumber available
o Other hardwood products (including tropical and American) not available
o UK domestic wood products not available
o Aligned to inter-governmental sustainable forestry principles
o Developed through participatory processes at national level
o Independent third-party certification bodies accredited by national accreditation bodies operating within ISO/IAF framework.
o Strong support from forest owners, industry, trade unions, professional foresters and national NGOs
o Recognised as “legal and sustainableby UK government
o Scores 2 out of maximum 3 points in BREEAM/Ecohomes rating. Expected to be upgraded to 3 points from April 2007
o Not endorsed by international campaigning NGOs (WWF, Greenpeace, FoE)
In terms of area, PEFC is the largest certification scheme with 193 million ha certified in 21 countries