Forest Certification in the Boreal

Boreal forest countries, including Canada, Russia, Sweden and Finland, are the global leading nations in forest certification and product labeling (see Table 1). 


They account for the majority of the world’s certified forests. Two forest certification programs dominate the market for certified wood: the  Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC). As PEFC’s title suggests, it is an umbrella program that accredits national certification schemes. The forests of these four countries make up about 57% of the world’s FSC certified forests, and 59% of the world’s forests certified by PEFC (see Table 1). Companies in Canada, Sweden, and Finland started forest management and chain of custody (CoC) certification efforts in the mid- to late 1990’s. In Russia, however, industrial forest company certification did not take off until 2003-2004. Russia is the only boreal country where FSC strongly dominates the certification market. FSC was the first certification program to start operating in Russia. Russia’s PEFC program was accredited in 2009. In Canada and Finland, the dominant certification programs are PEFC accredited schemes. In Canada, two certification programs are accredited with PEFC: the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) certification program, and in Finland the Finnish Forest Certification Council operates under PEFC accreditation.

Table 1. Certified Forests as of November 2014 (ha) Sources: (FSC, 2014), (PEFC, 2014). Some forest areas have dual FSC and PEFC ​​certification.





SFI: 83,659,266

CSA: 39,449,763










Total Global Forest Certified Area



Differences in certification among countries are due to interacting economic and political factors. Benjamin Cashore, Graeme Auld, Deana Newsom and their collaborators have developed a comprehensive theory of “non-state market-driven governance”. This theory states that forest certification adoption patterns are the result of several interacting groups of factors, including national roles in the global forest economy, structure of domestic forest sectors and the history of forest policy on public policy agenda.

Common among boreal forest countries, namely Canada, Russia, Sweden & Finland, is their dependence on foreign demand for timber. As a result, these countries are responsive to foreign demand for certified timber. Through market-based campaigns, environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, have targeted printing companies and retailers in various countries, including large corporations in the USA, the UK and Germany. In response to these pressures from environmental activists, a number of large corporations declared their preference for certified wood. As a result, many Canadian, Russian, Swedish and Finnish forest companies adopted forest certification. Nevertheless there are systematic differences across countries as to which certification program companies use to certify their forest management and chain of custody.

In Sweden, environmental groups convinced the well-integrated Swedish Forest Industries’ association to support the FSC. The association includes major forest companies that own and manage large forest areas. Non-industrial forest owners supported PEFC. In Finland, the forest industry is dominated by several large concentrated companies, but they source timber mainly from many small non-industrial forest owners. Early on, both industry and forest owners showed support for the national PEFC Finland certification program. Moreover, the Finnish forest sector is the major global producer of high quality printing paper. Finnish paper industry’s dominant position in this market and the high cohesion of forest company and forest owner associations made Finnish companies and forest owners less susceptible to environmental groups’ efforts to promote FSC. These factors resulted in an overall broad adoption of the national PEFC Finland certification program.

In Russia, the forest industry also responded to demand from international buyers and pressures from international and domestic environmental groups. In the 1990s and 2000s, large multinational forest companies purchased manufacturing facilities and acquired forest management licenses from the federal government for large forest areas. Several of these companies imported certification practices as a part of their global sustainability policies. FSC has come to dominate certification in Russia because of environmental groups’ advocacy and their early efforts to support the operation of the FSC certification program in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In contrast to other countries, local industries, industry associations and state agencies were unable to quickly create a working national certification program that could compete with FSC. PEFC Russia achieved accreditation in 2009, but lags behind FSC significantly in terms of the certified area (see Table 1).

In Canada, certification adoption patterns vary across the country depending on economic and political factors  at the provincial level. For instance, in Ontario in 2008, 42% of the total certified forest area was FSC certified; 28% and 30% were CSA and SFI certified respectively. In contrast, in British Columbia in 2008, only about 0.6 million ha were FSC certified, out 51.5 million ha of total certified land. The FSC certified areas in Ontario are managed by two large companies – Domtar and Timbec – that support this certification program. In British Columbia, one of the causes of the industry’s greater preference for CSA and SFI programs was heated controversy over the FSC regional standard for British Columbia, where representatives of the timber industry felt that a number the standard’s requirements were excessively stringent, and too difficult and too costly to implement.

Most research on forest certification impact in boreal countries suggests that certification has generated improvements in companies’ forest management systems, including systemic changes and changes in on-the-ground practices. Megan Masters, Anna Tikina (M.F.S. ’01), and Bruce Larson (M.F.S. ’78) analyzed CSA, SFI and FSC audit conditions in Canada and concluded that FSC audits are likely to generate more changes in environmental, social and economic practices whereas PEFC-accredited SFI and CSA are likely to lead to changes in forest management systems and aquatic ecosystems management. WWF Austria analyzed forest audit conditions in six European countries, including Russia and Sweden. This analysis concluded that in Russia the protection of endangered species and conservation of high value forests, including intact forest landscapes, received considerable attention of auditors and companies. Additionally, certification gave attention to social issues, including relations with stakeholders and local communities and occupational health and safety for forest workers. However, social scientist Maria Tysiatchniouk points out that the social requirements of certification, including involvement of forest-dependent communities in forest management, planning, and benefit-sharing, receive significantly less attention in Russia than ecological and systemic aspects.

The WWF Austria study also demonstrated that audit reports in Sweden emphasize improved planning and use of forest residues for biomass and the formal recognition of the rights of the indigenous Sami people. A more recent study by Johanna Johansson and Gun Lidestav documented minor improvements in forest conditions in Sweden, but also provided evidence that more harvesting occurred on certified small-scale forest properties than on non-certified small-scale properties. Overall, research on forest certification effectiveness in boreal forests has yielded mixed results.

Forest certification credibility and effectiveness has been questioned by stakeholders in many places. Controversial issues include the standards’ rigor and prescriptiveness, certification audits’ thoroughness and accuracy, and auditors’ qualifications and competence. One of the most recent examples is the Greenpeace International’s critique of FSC.  In 2013-2014, Greenpeace International published several case-studies of FSC forest certification, mainly in boreal forests in Canada, Russia and Finland. The authors pointed out the weaknesses of the system with regard to the protection of high conservation value forests, in particular intact forest landscapes, chain of custody certification and controlled wood certification. In these reports, Greenpeace International did not recognize PEFC as a credible certification program and emphasized the need for FSC supporters to work together to improve FSC certification standards and certification systems. In 2014, the FSC General Assembly passed  a motion (Motion 65) that obligates FSC to direct certification bodies and national standard-setting groups to modify and strengthen FSC requirements related to intact forest landscapes in order ensure their better protection.

Overall, forest certification represents significant forested areas and a considerable amount of Chain of Custody certificates have been issued in the four major boreal forest countries. Forest certification appears to have become an important part of boreal forest governance systems. It has also produced improvements in forest management practices. Yet scholars and stakeholders appear to be uncertain about certification’s long-term impacts, potential negative implications (e.g., increased harvesting on certified forestlands) and the credibility of certification as a means to promote and reward responsible forest management of boreal forests.


Cashore, B., Auld, G., & Newsom, D. (2004). Governing Through Markets: Forest Certification and the Emergence of Non-State Authority. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Cashore, B., Egan, E., Auld, G., & Newsom, D. (2007). Revising Theories of Nonstate Market-Driven (NSMD) Governance: Lessons from the Finnish Forest Certification Experience. Global Environmental Politics, 7(1), 1-44.

FSC. (2014). Global FSC Certificates: Types and Distribution. November 2014. Retrieved January 18, 2015, from

FSC General Assembly. (2014). Motion 65: High Conservation Value Forests 2 (HCV2) - Intact Forest Landscapes (IFL) Protection. Retrieved January 23, 2015, from

Greenpeace International. (2014). FSC Case Studies: Working Together to Improve FSC. Retrieved January 23, 2015, from

Johansson, J., & Lidestav, G. (2013). Can Voluntary Standards Regulate Forestry? - Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Forest Certification in Sweden. Forest Policy and Economics, 13(3), 191-198.

Lister, J. (2011). Corporate Social Responsibility and the State: International Approaches to Forest Co-regulation. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Malets, O. (2013). The Translation of Transnational Voluntary Standards into Practices: Civil Society and the Forest Stewardship Council in Russia. Journal of Civil Society, 9(3), 300-324.

Malets, O. (2014). When Transnational Standards Hit the Ground: Domestic Regulations, Compliance Assessment and Forest Certification in Russia. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, DOI: 10.1080/1523908X.2014.947922.

Masters, M., Tikina, A., & Larson, B. (2010). Forest Certification Audit Results as Potential Changes in Forest Management in Canada. The Forestry Chronicle, 86(4), 455-460.

PEFC. (2014). PEFC Global Statistics: SFM & CoC Certification. November 2014. Retrieved January 18, 2015, from

Tollefson, C., Gale, F., & Haley, D. (2008). Setting the Standard: Certification, Governance, and the Forest Stewardship Council. Vancouver: University of British Columbria Press.

Tysiachniouk, M. (2012). Transnational Governance through Private Authority: The Case of the Forest Stewardship Council in Russia. Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.

WWF Austria. (2005). The effects of FSC-certification in Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Russia, Sweden and the UK: An analysis of corrective action requests. Retrieved January 18, 2015, from