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Chain-of-custody (CoC) certification is the process by which the source of a forest product is verified. Timber or other raw material from certified forestland is tracked and identified in documentation from the forest through all the steps of the production process until it reaches the end user. Recent data estimates nearly 30,000 CoC certificates have now been issued worldwide.

The major certification programs in the United States, including the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) offer group certification for small businesses. Group chain-of-custody certification allows eligible businesses to share the responsibilities of a single certificate when manufacturing and marketing certified forest products. The group structure allows for pooling of resources and distributed costs. Experience has shown that in some situations the cost savings for each member of the group can be 50% to 80% less than when pursuing an individual certificate. 

In 2010, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) introduced revised criteria for group chain-of-custody certification that expands opportunities for small businesses in the United States. The recent revisions expanded eligibility in the United States to include “any small business with annual forest product sales less than $5,000,000 USD.” In response to this change, additional FSC groups have been formed, pre-existing groups have grown, and opportunities for small businesses to participate in FSC chain-of-custody certification have been expanded. The SFI program does not have minimum or maximum size limits for businesses participating in group chain-of-custody.

This report explains Chain-of-Custody Standards and Group Chain-of-Custody Policies of the FSC and SFI.3 Opportunities for continued expansion of group chain-of-custody are also discussed.

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