The trees used to make paper and paperboard packaging are crops, just like apples or corn. They're harvested from managed forests and plantations where they're planted and replanted using sustainable forest management practices, thus ensuring that while current needs for paper-based products are met, healthy and abundant forests will remain for future generations. In fact, while deforestation is occurring in other countries, there is now more standing wood on U.S. forestlands today than there was 50 years ago. Sustainable forestry and certification programs have played an important role in fostering this growth.
Forest certification programs provide guidelines that ensure that rigorous environmental standards are met, such as certifying that land is managed with sustainable practices, that suppliers and/or manufacturers purchase fiber from responsible sources, and that suppliers and/or manufacturers track certified fiber as it moves through the supply chain. These programs include the following.
American Tree Farm System (ATFS)
The oldest forest management certification program in the U.S., ATFS boasts 24 million certified acres that are managed to support water, wildlife, wood, and recreation. Although ATFS does not include procurement or chain of custody certifications, ATFS-certified fiber can be recognized under PEFC and SFI chain of custody certificates.
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) (International and U.S.)
FSC is a global forestry certification organization that has international standards to which national and regional FSC standards must conform. FSC certifies over 222 million acres of forests in over 82 countries, and its U.S. program has 35 million certified acres. Certifications include forest management, chain of custody, and controlled wood (the process by which non FSC-certified wood is deemed acceptable for mixing with FSC fiber). An FSC label assures consumers that a product or packaging comes from forests managed to meet the social, economic, and ecological needs of present and future generations.
Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)
Covering 85% of the world's forest area, PEFC was founded in 1999 as an independent non-profit that endorses other land management systems, such as SFI and FSC. PEFC provides assurance to purchasers of wood and paper products that they are promoting the sustainable management of forests, with mechanisms supported by 149 world governments.
Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)
Founded in 1994, SFI is an independent non-profit that offers forest land management, fiber sourcing, and chain of custody certifications. With 63 million certified acres in the U.S., it is the world’s largest single forest management system. SFI’s Implementation Committees provide logger training and education as well as landowner outreach meant to promote responsible forestry and best practices. SFI standards also address key environmental issues, from water quality and biodiversity to harvesting and regeneration.
Approximately 10 percent of all forests worldwide are certified, the majority of which are in Canada, the U.S., and Europe. While there is a strong legacy of voluntary sustainable forestry practices in the U.S., the fragmented pattern of land ownership and the cost and work involved in becoming certified has hindered the rate of certification. Even so, 20% of American timberland is now certified.
Each certification program plays a significant role in promoting and advancing sustainable and responsible forestry. In fact, if a competitive disadvantage were to emerge, it could disrupt the balance between social, environmental, and financial value, so much so that it may encourage small, private landowners to move their land from sustainable forest operations to non-forest use. So when purchasing forest-based products, CPGs and consumers should look beyond the label and instead consider the overall sustainability of the forests from which the fiber is sourced.
For a more comprehensive look, please read AF&PA’s Sustainable Forestry and Certification Programs in the United States.
SFI vs. FSC: Similarities and Differences
Both SFI and FSC address forest management, procurement, and chain of custody issues. Additionally, both require third-party auditors, chain of custody public reporting, stakeholder consultation, and independent governance. Both are based on similar criteria and indicators, including requirements for reforestation, conservation of biodiversity, and protection of endangered species and water quality.
Yet there are some key differences. First, although both standards allow for responsible clearcutting, SFI allows for a maximum average size of 120 acres whereas FSC has various size restrictions ranging from 2 to 80 acres. And whereas FSC does not prohibit the use of chemical pesticides and biocides, SFI only allows for chemical use that has been approved by federal, state, and local governments.
Moreover, FSC prohibits the replacement of natural forests by tree plantations whereas SFI only prohibits such conversions under certain circumstances, such as when the forest in question is comprised of mostly old growth. Finally, FSC’s auditors are accredited by a for-profit company founded by FSC while SFI’s auditors are accredited by independent organizations.