As organizations like the Federal Trade Commission issue revised guides to help ensure marketers make accurate claims about their products’ environmental benefits…
December 3 2012
As organizations like the Federal Trade Commission issue revised guides to help ensure marketers make accurate claims about their products’ environmental benefits, the American Consumer Institute (ACI) Center for Citizen Research today issued a new report that compares competing forest certification systems. The report examines the actual implementation of forest management practices compared to management plan claims, particularly by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The discrepancies between the implementation and the perception of these certification programs could significantly impact timberland economics in the United States.
ACI President Steve Pociask stated, “ACI’s earlier research on flawed FSC standards exposed that well-intentioned consumers could be paying as much as 20 percent more for sustainable forest products that fall far short of environmental expectations. This study details just how varied and inconsistent FSC’s forest management practices are and underscores how FSC’s allies have misinformed consumers of forest products across the country.” Its findings also support the idea that policies supporting all credible forest certification programs lead to responsible land management rather than one that promotes FSC exclusively.
The report, “Comparing Forest Certification Standards in the U.S., Part I: How Are They Being Implemented Today?” was authored by Brooks Mendell , Ph.D. and Amanda Lang , forestry experts with Forisk Consulting. It analyzed the implementation of three prominent forest certification programs in the U.S.; FSC, American Tree Farm System (ATFS), and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).
The report found that in the United States, forest management programs “were ambiguous, particularly FSC, with respect to certain certification criteria.” The authors encourage customers of forest certification to question how these programs are actually implemented on the ground compared to specific program claims related to forest management.
Third-party certification auditors interviewed for the report informed and confirmed the implementation discrepancy. The report states that, “even auditors responsible for verifying landowners’ compliance with certification programs acknowledge how some standards, even if explicit, remain subject to interpretation in implementation.”
The result is market confusion and increased costs for consumers who are willing to pay price premiums for certified wood products who may not be getting an environmentally-superior forest product. In October, ACI released a paper titled, “The Monopolization of Forest Certification: Do Disparate Standards Increase Consumer Costs and Undermine Sustainability?” that examines consumer costs. It revealed that marketplace confusion over certification standards could be driving up consumer prices by as much as 15 to 20 percent.