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Third-party forest certification began more than twenty years ago, and there have been a number of revisions to the standards used to conduct forest management audits in North America. In 2015, changes are once again being made in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) programs.

In January 2015, SFI released the revised SFI 2015-2019 Standards and Rules for its program. The major changes include a restructuring of the program into three core standards (Forest Management; Fiber Sourcing; and Chain of Custody) and the development of a range of specific modifications to address land use conversion, pesticide use, water quality, biodiversity, indigenous peoples’ rights, and biotechnology. The FSC is introducing International Generic Indicators (IGIs) in 2015 to increase the consistency of its global program. The FSC is also undertaking a review of its chain of custody program with proposed changes to include the re-classification of pre-consumer reclaimed paper and a reduction in the threshold for use of the FSC Recycled label.

In general, the changes may be viewed as positive and representative of a continuing evolution in the understanding of responsible forestry and growth of the respective organizations. In many ways, it appears clear that forest certification programs are facing a breakpoint in their development6 – from “forming” to “norming.” The clarification of procedures and practices (e.g., principles, criteria, and indicators) that facilitate improved consistency and thus operational efficiency are a reflection of this stage of development. However, the rate of change in the standards (e.g., every five years or less) can cause marketplace frustration and confusion while also risking auditing inconsistencies. Recognition that, for a certification system to successfully guide improvement while also creating value, standards must be consistent and stable is key to future success. 

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