Environmental & Chain of Custody Certfication

There are a number of independent certification schemes which operate throughout the world working to various standards. In the UK, the two most important are the FSC® and the PEFC. The FSC® operates worldwide, while the PEFC, being an umbrella scheme, is increasingly being used as a brand to promote timber certified originally by national organisations such as CSA, SFI and MTCS.

On recommendation from the Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET), the UK Government currently accepts that timber products certified to any of the above schemes provide adequate assurance that the source is legal and sustainable.

Timber Sustainability is of prime importance to all those within the industry. According to the Forestry Commission, deforestation is the world’s second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. To help contribute to reducing environmental impact, architects, landscape architects, developers and contractors are encouraged to source materials from sustainably managed forests where trees are replanted as they are felled.

There are over 50 certification programmes worldwide that address the different types of forests. The two most well-known certifications are PEFC and FSC.

The FSC is a global certification system that enables specifiers to identify and purchase wood from well-managed forests. It defines ten principles of responsible forest management for a manager or owner to follow. As a benchmark, any FSC standard has to be ‘interpreted’ at the national level in order for it to be implemented within local forests.

Similarly, PEFC describes itself as an international organisation dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management (SFM) through independent third party certification. However, PEFC is not a standards agency but a mutual recognition scheme. It not only focuses on the ethical aspects of SFM but also the processing of timber, resulting in a larger emphasis on the supply chain than FSC.

How to prove compliance

There are two ways: using Category A evidence (the simplest way) or Category B evidence.

Category A evidence

You will need documentary evidence of full PEFC or FSC Chain of Custody certification.

Or the timber must carry a FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA).

Category B evidence

When is Category B evidence required?

  • Where the chain of custody is broken and your supplier has no CoC certificate (note: without Chain of Custody, you can’t publically claim to have purchased a certified product, even if the timber is from a certified forest).
  • Where the timber is not from a certified forest.

For both you’ll need credible evidence collected and available showing:

  • Forest legality and sustainability criteria are met.
  • Robust traceability from forest to you.

How is Category B evidence verified?

  • 1st party verification: when suppliers check themselves. The most common form of first party verification is a supplier declaration.
  • 2nd party verification: when customers check their suppliers.
  • 3rd party verification: when an independent organization checks the supplier.

The TTF provides help and advice, and its RPP can be used to provide Category B evidence.

How available is certified timber?

Supply of certified softwood timber exceeds demand. But supply of certified hardwood and certified hardwood plywood is more limited, particularly if sourced from tropical forests.

Supplies of certified or Verified Progress hardwood will be available from specialist merchants. Ask your supplier about their purchasing policy.

What’s this mean for you?

More and more people recognize the need to use certified timber. In many cases, this is a legal requirement. For example, if you work as a contractor or subcontractor on public sector work, (such as NHS, National Trust, UK government or armed forces) you must ensure you comply with the procurement requirements, whether undertaking new build or maintenance work.