Tuesday 27 September 2016

Get certified to harvest profits

Published 22/06/2016 | 02:30

Certification is more about being able to sell your timber.
Certification is more about being able to sell your timber.

Consumers demand that goods are produced in an environmentally responsible way. Markets in turn respond to this demand by making various 'eco' claims.

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Certification is one way to prove that products come from well managed forests; providing environmental, social and economic benefits. It reassures consumers of the origin of wood used in timber products.

Take a humble wooden spoon, for instance. How does a potential buyer know that this spoon is not made from illegally logged tropical hardwood?

Independently audited certification schemes aim to provide such assurances: where the wooden spoon came from, what forest management has been implemented, etc.

A certified wooden spoon has a full paper trail leading back to the forest from which it came. An independent organisation carries out an audit, and as a result, will issue a certificate confirming that a forest is being managed in accordance with a certain standard.

The two best known schemes operating in Ireland are PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). Each Standard has been developed nationally by a number of 'stakeholders' affiliated to an economic, environmental or social group or chamber. Both schemes comply with an internationally agreed framework of standards.

When people refer to timber certification, two different processes are involved. Forest Management (FM) certification aims to ensure that the management of a forest complies with certain rules and regulations from establishment to harvest.

The second process aims to track the timber once it leaves the forest until it ends up with the customer. This is called Chain of Custody (CoC) certification and follows the full production cycle as the timber is processed into a wide variety of products from firewood to construction timber, furniture and paper.

Currently, only Coillte has both FSC and PEFC FM certificates in place while many Irish companies such as Bord na Mona, Munster Joinery and all major Irish sawmills hold both FSC and PEFC CoC certificates.

As I outlined earlier, markets, especially international markets, now demand certification.

Certification is a voluntary commitment and nobody is forced to join. However, the message from Irish sawmills to private growers is very simple: get your timber certified.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for Irish sawmills to sell uncertified timber. Although FSC and PEFC allow 20 to 30% of uncertified timber, this option is gradually disappearing because more and more private timber is coming onto the market.

There are a number of certification options for forest owners. The two main options are individual certification or group certification.

Individual certification can be for a single forest or for several forests with a single owner. The cost of individual certification is very high, and therefore, restricted to very large forest owners.

Auditor

Group certification, on the other hand, can be organised for a (large) number of forests owned by different people. Forest owners can formally join the group, agreeing to implement the required levels of management in their forests.

A group manager defines management requirements and monitors members' performance.

The group manager can provide support with the implementation and monitors compliance. An external auditor checks the group manager and inspects a random number of group members.

This option may well be the way forward for most private forest owners as certification costs are shared amongst many forest owners.

Now that I have mentioned money, will certification lead to better prices for your timber? Personally, I don't think that certification will translate in better timber prices.

I do believe that certification will be expensive. Costs are very variable and depend on many factors such as the regulatory framework already in place (or not), size and number of forests involved, current management practices, external assistance required, accredited certification body retained, etc.

Costs tend to be substantially lower in other parts of Europe where certification has become much more commonplace, where the State may bear some of the costs and where Forest Owner Associations tend to be much larger.

For instance, a private forest owner in Belgium will pay for PEFC certification €5 for up to five hectares and €0.50 per additional hectare after that up to a maximum cost of €250 for three years.

It is important for forest owners to consider the above topics carefully as it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell uncertified timber on the (international) market.

Certification is less about additional paperwork or getting higher timber prices but more about being able to sell your timber.

Certification event in Botanic Gardens

Sustainable Forest Management Ireland (SFMI), the organisation formerly known as FSC Ireland is hosting a national conference on forest management certification in Ireland, on Thursday June 30, in the Botanic Gardens in Dublin.

This national event will bring together the major players in forest management certification, including representatives of certification schemes, certifying bodies, the Forest Service as well as private growers. Examples of best practice and group certification will also be discussed on the day.

Forest certification has been identified as a potential barrier to mobilisation and sale of timber from the private growers in Ireland and this event will discuss issues and solutions around many aspects of certification.

The event should be of great interest to all private timber growers, farmers, timber processors, NGOs and any group with an interest in promoting sustainable management in Ireland's forests.

Registration fee is €20. This includes coffee and a light lunch. Registration forms are available from Emer Eagle, Teagasc 091-845213 or email sfmireland@gmail.com.

SFMI is a non-profit voluntary organisation, whose membership includes organisations such as the IFA, Coillte, Teagasc, UCD, Ecotourism Ireland, Society of Irish Foresters as well as individual members.

SFMI aims to promote sustainable management of Ireland's forests through information, advocacy and education on independent forest management certification schemes .

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