Home > posts > Environmentalists Push FSC Forest Certification Monopoly
October 26th, 2012 1:45 pm
Environmentalists Push FSC Forest Certification Monopoly
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Understandably, “forest certification” remains a rather obscure issue to most Americans.  Its regulation, however, significantly impacts the price consumers pay for wood products, not to mention the struggling domestic timber industry.

So what is “forest certification?”  It simply refers to formal recognition from organizations like the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the American Tree Farming System (ATFS) or the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) that a particular business responsibly manages its property in a way that promotes sustainability.  Those three certification groups set different benchmarks, some more achievable for various landowners than others.  A free and open certification market that allows businesses to choose the system that best fits their profile, and allows consumers to choose, has resulted in a larger amount of “green” products in consumer and building markets.  Additionally, the number of acres of certified land grows by millions of acres each year.

A vocal group of environmental activists, however, only endorses FSC certification and seeks to make it a monopoly while demonizing the competing forest certification systems.  Those activists successfully bullied Fortune 500 companies into accepting the exclusive use of FSC-certified products, and many government and rating agencies only recognize and award green “credits” to forest products recognized by FSC.  As a result, the market becomes distorted, with real costs for producers of wood and the environment, and fewer choices for consumers.  And in an unfortunate turn of events, recent government overreach prevents a majority of American businesses who took the time and invested their resources to achieve certification from entering green markets.  The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED rating system only recognizes FSC-certified wood as sustainable, which means SFI or ATFS timber cannot enter LEED projects.  Even though the USGBC is a nonprofit group, many government agencies now accept its word as gospel, and make its standards binding for receiving contracts.

That weakens the incentives for landowners to certify their land, because if they cannot market their goods in LEED markets, why bother to absorb the real costs (financial, time, compliance) associated with certification?  If SFI and ATFS goods are blocked from green markets, and the cost of FSC-certification is too steep, many businesses will opt out altogether.

The better policy is to encourage sustainable development of our nation’s forests by recognizing all credible forest certification program options.

Whether having arrived at these policies out of ignorance or simply succumbing to outside pressure, policymakers should accordingly reverse the policy that amounts to a de facto FSC monopoly in certain markets.  A recent study by the American Consumer Institute estimated the costs of carrying that policy to its endpoint.  Namely, if FSC-certification was made a binding requirement for American forests, consumer welfare losses would occur in a number of markets, totaling $10 billion for wood products and $24 billion for paper products markets each year.

It is therefore incumbent that the government stop picking certification monopoly winners and losers in this market.  The timber industry, small businesses and consumers deserve much better.

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