Timothy Lee

The issue of forest certification for wood and paper products doesn’t dominate current headlines, but unwise government policies and destructive campaigns undertaken by environmental activists can create very negative consequences for American consumers and businesses alike.

In recent decades, forest certification systems have become increasingly prevalent and influential. Essentially, landowners voluntarily partner with a certification organization with the goal of ensuring responsible cultivation of their lands. Following certification, they can then market wood and paper products that bear the marking of the certifying program, thus providing assurance to consumers who value eco-friendly products. Accordingly, that market-driven system can cater to consumers without top-down bureaucratic mandates from governments that distort markets.

Currently, three prominent certification programs exist in the U.S. – (1) the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), (2) Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and (3) Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – all of which aim to promote responsible land management.

Unfortunately, environmental extremists and too many federal, state, and local governments arbitrarily seek to limit choice among those three certification alternatives. Every year, more and more cities needlessly make Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED”) certification mandatory in their buildings, which is biased in favor of wood certified by FSC rather than either ATFS or SFI. That ends up disadvantaging the majority of American businesses in the forest products industry by potentially blocking them from city, state, and federal projects, because more domestic tree farmers, suppliers, and retailers utilize wood recognized by ATFS or SFI rather than the FSC.

Accordingly, in the case of LEED-certified projects, top-down mandates distort markets in a manner that increases the price of wood and costs to taxpayers for publicly-financed construction projects.

Moreover, that favoritism toward FSC timber is not based on any clear environmental reason. The actual, real-world, hard evidence does not demonstrate any substantive environmental benefit in favoring FSC over the other two prominent certification systems, SFI or ATFS. Numerous studies, such as one published in the Journal of Forestry, have examined the impact of FSC and SFI forest certification in the U.S. and Canada and found few differences in land management outcomes of those two alternative systems.


Timothy Lee

Timothy Lee is the director of legal and public affairs at the Center for Individual Freedom, a free-market and constitutional advocacy organization based in Alexandria, Virginia.

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