Clearcutting Forest Certification

Welcome back to my blog!

As promised, let’s talk about forest certifications for the woody biomass industry. Keep in mind, when looking at the certification agencies for the woody biomass and wood pellet industries, we have to identify those agencies that are also certifying the timber industry, which supplies the biomass industry with their “certified sustainably harvested” wood.

Why Certify Forests for the Wood Pellet Industry?

The wood pellet industry grew from a strong European demand that sought to reduce its carbon footprint, while phasing out its use of coal. Burning wood pellets was the perfect “carbon neutral” fuel to replace (or co-fire with) Europe’s dirty coal plants. The U.S. recognized this expanding market and began to ship wood pellets to Europe. In order to standardize the wood pellet fuel for the “transatlantic crossing,” in 2010, GDF Suez, the largest world-wide utility company, created the Initiative Wood Pellet Buyers (IWPB), which set supply-chain harvest standards for the industry.

WoodPelletsCrate
Bagged Wood Pellets – Photo: Deutsche Welle/Flickr/Creative Commons

Soon thereafter, six of Europe’s biggest utility companies, which included Drax Energy, joined IWPB to become the governing authority in the expanding global wood pellet market. This was a brilliant strategic move by the IWPB. Before our sleeping governments knew what had happened, the IWPB had set their own harvest guidelines, freely traded amongst themselves, and became the wood pellet industry experts, which bought them big seats at the table of the EU’s “low-carbon” future.

Before our sleeping governments knew what had happened, the IWPB had set their own harvest guidelines, freely traded amongst themselves, and became the wood pellet “industry experts” which bought them big seats at the table of the EU’s low-carbon future.

Using their certification requirements, the IWPB quietly orchestrated the control of the EU’s wood pellet market. They also became a benchmark agency that other wood pellet certification agencies would adopt. That’s why IWPB wanted to certify the wood pellet industry; it was all about controlling the market.

3-ForestCerts
SFI, FSC and PEFC are “Forest Harvest” Certifying Agencies

 

While the IWPB was enjoying certifying the wood pellet industry in Europe, other “timber” certification agencies emerged. The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), is one of the largest forest certification systems in the world. According to PEFC, their program is, “An international non-profit, NGO dedicated to promoting Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) through independent third-party certification.” The PEFC program tends to have strict standards for harvesting wood for fuel. Generally, the large U.S. timber companies like International Paper, will use the stringent PEFC certifications to prove their sustainable supply-chain to their clients.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is another giant world-wide forest certification agency. They primarily work with logging companies to certify their supply-chain as “sustainable” for companies like Kimberly-Clark. FSC also serves as a major certifying agency for U.S. logging mills and the pulp/paper industries that supply the biomass and wood pellet industries with their “waste” wood. FSC forest certifications are viewed as the “gold standard” by most green groups. They aim to provide equitable timber harvests while adhering to rigorous environmental standards that preserve forests as intact ecosystems.

However, recently FSC’s excellent forest stewardship reputation has come under attack from Resolute Forest Products, a FSC certified Canadian timber company. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) didn’t let this public shaming go unnoticed with its poignant article about Resolute’s forest greenwashing campaign. In a nutshell, Resolute didn’t like being told they had to reduce their forest harvesting in sensitive areas. Resolute ignored FSC’s recommendations and continued to harvest using the much inferior, Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification.

 



Classic video footage from STAND.earth formerly Forest Ethics

SFI: A Sketchy Past of Certifying Clearcuts

SFI, a forest certification system spawned from the timber industry, has a sketchy past that’s left environmentalists and the general public in shock. Sadly, as Resolute dug its heels in, other timber industries across North America were switching to the lax, “we’ll certify your clearcuts” SFI bandwagon. STAND.earth shows some compelling images of clearcuts that were SFI certified. The unsuspecting public has no idea that SFI created a “Forest Partners Program,” which allows mills to apply SFI’s logo to purchased logs that have not come from certified forests. SFI has set a new standard for greenwashing.

SFI Clearcuts
“SFI Certified Clearcut” – Photo: Jim Ace, STAND.earth

The unsuspecting public has no idea that SFI created a “Forest Partners Program,” which allows mills to apply SFI’s logo to purchased logs that have not come from certified forests.

I’m glad that PEFC and FSC are doing what they’re supposed to do; ensuring sustainable timber harvests that protect forest ecosystems. SFI, however is egregiously working with the timber industries to certify questionable harvests that endanger future forest health. It’s bad enough that we’re torching our precious forests for clean energy, but we don’t need the added environmental problems of making wood pellets and burning woody biomass from clearcut forests.

There’s a lot more to cover regarding wood pellet certifications. I’ll save the residential “heating with wood pellets,” and the “Sustainable Biomass Program” for next week’s blog. Cheers.

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