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The success of forest certification is apparent in positive growth trends over the past two decades. However, evolution is needed to support improved impact and measurable outcomes. Competition between certification programs can be beneficial, but it should be occurring in ways that make a meaningful difference in addressing drivers of deforestation, creating economic growth and employment opportunities, and supporting more equitable access to natural resources. Instead, marketplace behaviors have led to the expansion of double-certification and other inefficiencies. A starting place for arresting this trend is with supply chain influencers embracing a program neutral stance or at least a ranked choice approach and allowing for alternatives rather than program exclusion.

The world gives little thought to how much forestland or wood is certified. To the extent governments, companies, conservation organizations, and others are paying attention, the questions are more along the lines of: are forests being sustainably managed? and how can we responsibly source products from forests? Certification has been able to serve as a proxy for the answers, especially as it experienced strong growth and seemed like a silver bullet solution. But the limitations of forest certification as the single answer to the diverse drivers of land use change have become increasingly clear. As a result, the past decade has seen steady growth of private and public sector alternative approaches manifested within supply chains, technology innovations, and government policies. To some degree, each of these developments pose a threat to the future of forest certification. However, this growing interest and innovation also presents the opportunity to revisit the original questions and recommit to identifying collaborative ways of securing the future of forests and forest products.

There is growing recognition that forests can be at the center of a circular bioeconomy, the structure for a healthy and more equitable built environment, and the source of global natural climate solutions. These opportunities are much bigger than the tools and solutions offered by forest certification, and they will require massive cooperation and significantly greater resources. To realize this potential for forests and forest products, relevant organizations must know how to work together to build alliances and reduce friction. Forest certification programs are going to have to double-down on their stated commitments to innovate, partner, and reach ambitious targets to stay relevant within these large-scale opportunities.

In this report, we provide an update on the major forest certification programs and benchmark their status globally and within North America. We also examine how marketplace and policy initiatives are outpacing certification and what is needed to keep these programs relevant in the years ahead.

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