Glulam Sustainability

Certification of Forests and Chain of Custody for Timber Supplies

In the section entitled Glulam and sustainable forestry we have looked at the main elements of sustainable forest management.  Demand from customers for sustainable forest products has grown substantially and GLTA Members are eager actively to encourage this positive trend. Independent certification, aimed at providing purchasers with such assurance, comprises two main elements and it is important to differentiate these: -
Firstly, third-party forest certification schemes assure purchasers that their timber products originate from forests that are well-managed and legally harvested according to criteria defined in accredited forest management standards.  Independent organisations have developed these standards for good forest management, generally with participation by international organisations such as the FAO, and various inter-government representations.  Compliance makes it possible for independent accredited auditors to issue certificates for the relevant forest operations.

Secondly, chain-of-custody (CoC) certification completes the process by tracking and recording the timber from the certified forest through its processing to the point of sale.  Without CoC, raw wood supplies could be switched or mixed between certified sources and others, during the stages of conversion and manufacture.  Hence to ensure traceability at all stages, close monitoring and securely documented custody rules are applied from the forest to the sawmill and on to the manufacturing processes.  CoC audits often apply to a complete timber group, covering their operations at several factories or depots. The certifying organisations initiate arrangements in accordance with general ISO quality assurance practices and follow regular inspection and review procedures.

sustainable forestry cycle
The sustainable forestry cycle - Left to Right: Weeding between rows of Scots pine seedlings; High pruning a stand of Douglas fir in North Wales; Logs entering a sawmill near Fort William; Preparing land for re-planting in the Welsh Marches.

Both forest certification and chain of custody certification are applied to the timber used for European glulam and to the glued laminated timber products themselves. In the latter case, it is the CoC certification that is relevant.  Certification systems vary in their approach, but many of the differences between the schemes have reduced since their inception.

Although there are more than fifty certification bodies world-wide, the two largest are:

Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification – logo ©

Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).

Forest Stewardship Council – logo ©

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

In 1993, FSC was one of the first schemes to be founded.  Initially, its growth was stimulated by public awareness of the loss of tropical forests but other biomes were soon considered. PEFC was established in 1999 and is now the world's largest forest certification system, with more than 240 million hectares certified for over 714 thousand forest owners. The PEFC system operates as what is described as an “umbrella” scheme in which systems based on its core criteria are developed regionally.  This recognises the concept of “polycentrism,” where it is believed that locally developed solutions have a better chance of conserving common resources than globally imposed solutions.

In 2010, certified forests covered 350 million hectares globally, more than double the level in 2002.  The area of forest certified world-wide continues to increase, albeit now at a slower rate. According to the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO), certified forests in Europe follow the PEFC system in 56% of cases, with FSC covering nearly all of the remainder. 

Forest Certification in the Nordic Region
The PEFC endorsement system is widely followed in the Nordic region, where there are currently approximately 35 million hectares of PEFC certified forests.  Both large enterprise and family owned co-operative forests are included.  Group and regional schemes operate, to share costs and to facilitate effective membership by the large numbers of private ownerships.

It is estimated that in Finland, over 60% of forests are in private family ownership and the situation in Sweden is similar with around 50% private ownership.  Throughout the region there is substantial employment deriving from private and co-operative forestry and sawmilling.  These types of owner have a long-term interest in their property as an investment that can be passed on through the family as well as a resource that can be enjoyed for sport, recreation and to gather berries and mushrooms for example.  Over the decades, family forest ownership has been a significant motive for the overall increases in the growing stock.  This is important because forestry planning requires long-term decisions which may take 50 to 120 years to come into effect.

In Finland and Sweden, the forest certification scheme details have been developed by the Finnish Forest System for Certification (FFSC) and the Swedish Forest Agency (SFA) respectively.  These schemes then permit the application of the PEFC logo.  Approximately 80% of Sweden’s 23 million hectares of productive forests are now certified under either the PEFC or the FSC schemes. In Finland, about 95% of the 22.1 million hectares of commercial forest have been certified, mainly under the PEFC system.

CoC certification needs to take into account the multiple use of trees and logs with respect to final products.  This is especially significant in the Nordic region, owing to the specialised efficiency of its forest products industry.  For example, the inner parts of a log may yield sawn wood; outer parts, pulp and paper, whilst bark, roots and branches are regularly used for energy, together with the sawdust.

Some Nordic forestry groups have recently started to offer customers a choice between PEFC and FSC certified material.  As indicated above, both of the main schemes have now become more similar to one another and FSC has also made regional adaptations.  Although this double certification is more expensive, it is less than twice the cost of a single scheme where the company concerned already operates each scheme in different countries.  It is difficult to tell why one scheme should be preferred over the other, although some customers believe that FSC is more detailed regarding areas that are to be left completely undisturbed and with regards to special felling in which only selected trees are cut.  On the other hand it has been reported that improvements in forest conditions in terms of enhanced biodiversity have been good on small-scale private forest land, which is PEFC certified.

Forest Certification in North America
The PEFC system is widely applied in North America, together with the FSC scheme.  The Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable Forest Management Standard, and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), are also relevant, particularly the latter, since it covers some of the hardwoods that are exported to Europe for applications including laminating.

The FSC and the PEFC registered ATFS schemes have begun to be applied to temperate hardwoods such as American white oak mentioned in our Principal choices – Timber species section. In the USA, the underlying state and federal legislation that ensures legal and sustainable harvesting is very powerful.  The region is of course famous for its protected national parks and forests, practically conceived there in the nineteenth century. There is thus excellent wildlife, biodiversity and water resource protection.

This overall legislative situation has led to the net volume of hardwood growing stock more that doubling since 1953, according to the US Resource Planning Act Assessment (2007).  However these hardwoods derive from a huge constituency of small forest owners, 90% of whom have holdings of less than 10 hectares.  This has created genuine difficulties in introducing forest certification. The Chain of Custody stage of certification rather than the basic forest management is the challenge, owing to the tradition of wood dealers who purchase small quantities of logs from hundreds of different owners.  A US Forest Service assessment in 2010 found that at that time, still only about 12% of family forest owners had even heard of forest certification and most did not regard timber production as the principal motive for retaining their forest lands. 

Nevertheless, noting the availability from other sources of timber certified by schemes such as FSC and PEFC, the American hardwood industry has started to recognise that conformance is desirable.  Certified supplies are thus coming on stream, with Group Certification, backed by tax incentives, being introduced.  Also, with a greater degree of acceptance, forests on state owned lands and private woods on their adjacent terrain have recently been certificated on a Group Basis.   

Forest Certification in the UK
Here forest planning aims and forecasts have been changing significantly.  The UK Forestry Standard (UKFS Third, 2011 Edition), is currently the principal reference for sustainable forestry. Supported by a series of guidelines and technical notes, this defines the standards; and provides the basis for regulation and monitoring.  The UKFS is the basis for the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS), which underwrites independent voluntary certification.

Whilst the Forestry Commission and the Forest Service in Northern Ireland manage approximately one-third of all the UK forests, a diverse range of individuals, groups and organisations own the remainder.  Cover for game has influenced the management of scattered woodlands since the time of the Norman Conquest and this remains an important form of protection on many mixed estates and farms.  Charities such as the National Trust and the RSPB also control large areas of forest and woodlands. Here timber production is combined with amenity access and biodiversity protection, following the UKWAS/FSC schemes.

The improved economics of supplying fuel wood has accompanied alterations in planting and management plans. But in some cases, high sales prices have begun to impact negatively on developing initiatives that were aimed at adding greater value.  Laminating sweet chestnut coppice in the South East of England is a case in point.  Large coppice woods are owned by water companies who may be tempted by quick fuel wood returns to the detriment of these preferred timber supplies. 

The audit protocol of the UKWAS is recognised by both the FSC and the PEFC.  Their certification schemes now apply to all of the public forest estate (0.81 million hectares) and to about 68% of the timber production from the other areas.  Because of their diverse ownership objectives as well as the costs of operating certification, private estates are naturally slower adopters, but charities such as the Woodland Trust believe that when it is appropriate to harvest timber, the UKWAS/FSC certification should be applied.  Such production appeals particularly to clients for small schemes who wish to contribute to local economies and to reduce the haulage distances of the supplies.

UK government policy has strongly influenced the adoption of sustainable timber procurement.  Although not a regulatory requirement, certification is virtually essential for larger contracts in which government agencies are involved.  Local authorities have also been encouraged to comply, and largely do so.  The Central Point of Expertise on Timber procurement (CPET) was established in 2003 to encourage this trend and to issue advice for both public and private sector industry and professionals.

Tropical timbers - Certification in developing countries
The majority of certified forestry operations remain in Europe, North America and parts of the Antipodes.  Nevertheless, certification in tropical developing countries is progressing, driven significantly by the demand from European markets.  A difficulty for such forest managers is often the lack of secure tenure together with inadequate capacity to undergo certification audits and to maintain operations to certification standards.

As indicated in our Principal choices – Timber species section, tropical hardwoods rated as “durable” or “very durable” are worthwhile considering for use as laminations in very exposed structures and the UK has particularly strong experience in manufacturing this type of glulam.  The Malaysian Timber Certification Council operates a scheme under the PEFC umbrella.  For this purpose, the Malaysian Criteria and Indicators for forest management certification (MC&I, 2002) provide the basis for the forestry aspects. This was the first tropical timber certification scheme in the Asia Pacific region to receive such endorsement and BM TRADA Certification currently performs the CoC auditing for such Malaysian timbers.

The Ghanaian certification process began in 1995 and after consultations and pilot testing, its Forest Certification Standard was published in FSC format in 2007. A 2010 survey of more than one hundred Ghanaian timber companies showed that CoC custody remains scarce but is not now unknown. Cameroon is reported to have about eight hundred thousand acres of forest certified by the FSC.  However this is an example where researchers at the Centre for International Forestry Research, (CIFOR) have questioned whether future harvests will be able to be sustained at the present rates, advising that more strict schemes need to be introduced.
Certificates and product marking
Whatever the original source, timber products such as glulam that bear forest and CoC certification embody a distinction that is of value to the final clients and the owners of the building.  Hence it is very worthwhile taking care to ensure that the certificates, documentation and labels or product markings are valid and up-to-date and that their details are recorded and handed over in accordance with the relevant project quality assurance procedures. 


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  ATF Certified pine forest in Virginia, USA
An ATF Certified pine forest in Virginia, USA

Hatfield Forest  Essex
The National Trust owns the 1049 acres of Hatfield Forest, in Essex. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Woodland management follows mediaeval principles, including highly selective coppicing and logging of “standards” - trees for timber - used in conservation projects.

Sustainable tropical forestry Iroko Cameroon
Sustainable tropical forestry - Iroko, planted in 1958, photographed approximately 32 years later. An agroforestry project in Cameroon, West Africa. Whilst success requires patience, timber-bearing trees can be raised alongside food crops, both to the benefit of local populations.