WWF Forest Certification Assessment Tool (CAT)

Posted on May, 18 2015

WWF has developed the Certification Assessment Tool (CAT) to test the strength of certification systems and their standards.
Certification schemes have an important role to play in forest conservation, by enabling customers to choose products from forests that are managed in an economically, socially and environmentally responsible way.

To be effective, certification schemes need to have operational standards that are strong enough to deliver real positive impacts on the ground. And they need to have a strong governance structure and systems in place to ensure that the standards are applied.

WWF has developed the Certification Assessment Tool (CAT) to test the strength of certification systems and their standards on issues that matter to us and many other stakeholders worldwide. The CAT is based on our experience of working with a wide range of commodity certification schemes.

By highlighting strengths and areas for improvement in different schemes, the CAT enables WWF to monitor continuous improvements of certification schemes and their ability to deliver greater benefits for people and nature.

What does the CAT evaluate?

Standard strength – the requirements that forestry operations need to fulfil in order to become certified. This covers environmental issues such as biodiversity, water and soil management, pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions, and social issues such as land tenure, community relations and workers’ rights.  

System strength – the rules and procedures that regulate the system. This includes how the management and other standards are developed and verified, the control of the certification bodies, governance and grievance procedures, and chain of custody and labelling issues.   

The CAT is based on WWF’s conservation objectives, expert opinion and existing research into the impacts of certification. For example, multi-stakeholder schemes, in which different stakeholders such as communities, civil society organizations and environmental NGOs are actively involved, tend to score higher. This is because our experience shows that multi-stakeholder schemes are more likely to drive dialogue on emerging issues, address issues that matter to civil society and ensure that certificate holders comply with the standards.  

The CAT is a living document and will be updated regularly to address upcoming issues and fairly reflect progress made by schemes to deliver better outcomes.

What the results tell us

WWF has so far assessed three forest management certification schemes:
  • The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) international system and its Principles & Criteria (P&Cs) version 4 (current) and version 5 (in transition) as well as its certification body standards for Malaysia.
  • The Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) system and its global framework for endorsing national standards – Requirements and Criteria (PEFC 2013).
  • The Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) and its Standard for Natural Forests, which is endorsed by PEFC.
The CAT suggests that FSC, with stronger system strength, provides the most credible forest certification scheme at present. Independent research also confirms that FSC certification has positive impacts on the environment, social development and governance. There is no extensive research looking at the impacts of PEFC. Encouragingly, the CAT suggests that the revised FSC standard (P&C v5) has improved considerably compared to P&C v4, particularly on its social criteria: this means that as more forests are certified against this standard, forest management should improve further. The CAT also indicates that the FSC system is strongest where standards are developed and agreed at a national level.

While PEFC (2013) performs well in areas such as water and soil management, it scores less on several important criteria, such as biodiversity, and workers’ rights. The CAT result highlights weaknesses in the PEFC system around accreditation and certification. One significant weakness identified is that the controversial sources definition related to non-certified material in the PEFC chain of custody standard could mean that certified products may contain wood from areas where traditional and civil rights are violated, or where poor forest management threatens areas of high conservation value.

MTCS, the Malaysian forest certification scheme endorsed by PEFC, scores considerably lower than PEFC on both standard and system strength.

By comparison, the interpretations of the FSC standard (P&C v 4) for Malaysia developed by two certification bodies scored similar to the global standard.

Both FSC and PEFC have commented on the scorings; however, MTCS declined. This doesn’t imply that any of the schemes endorse the content and structure of the CAT as an assessment tool.

Areas for improvement

WWF uses the CAT to highlight areas where certification schemes can be strengthened.

This round of assessment shows that FSC needs to develop national standards through balanced multi-stakeholder negotiations in countries where these are still missing. Stronger criteria on producer communication and greenhouse-gas emissions would strengthen the standard.

The credibility of the PEFC system would benefit from more active and formally balanced participation from a wide range of stakeholders in its governance system, and greater transparency. This recommendation also applies to PEFC-endorsed national schemes, such as MTCS, although they can make improvements independently.

PEFC should ensure all of its endorsed standards fully comply with its international requirements and criteria. This is particularly important as PEFC is rapidly moving into regions where forest governance remains challenging, with low transparency, poor law enforcement and corruption.

The PEFC chain of custody standard needs to be strengthened to ensure the exclusion of non-acceptable sources in labelled products.

Areas for improvement within the PEFC and MTCS management standards include exclusion of natural forest conversion, safeguarding High Conservation Values, better producer communication and addressing greenhouse-gas emissions. MTCS should also better address indigenous peoples’ rights and community relations.