An independent observer of the Forest Stewartship Council

Rainforest Alliance to launch new certification scheme to rival FSCTags: Worldwide, Rainforest Alliance SmartWood

In a move that will further add to FSC's woes, the biggest of its accredited 'certifiers', Rainforest Alliance SmartWood, has announced plans to launch it's own 'logging certification' scheme, which is closely modelled on the FSC. In a consultation document circulated recently by SmartWood, the organisation claimed that it "remains an unequivocal, global supporter of the FSC system as the most credible forest certification system" but then, before introducing the proposed rival system, goes on to say that "we also believe that the FSC system can be improved".

SmartWood's consultation document states that "Recognizing the need for a third-party certification program for forest products harvesting companies, the SmartWood program of the Rainforest Alliance has worked with forest products companies, loggers, forestry specialists, academics, environmentalists and other interested parties to develop the "SmartLogging" program. The purpose of the program is performance-based, third-party logger certification, and the end goal will be to ensure a more sustainable supply of environmentally harvested forest products from the world's working forests."

SmartWood has come in for more criticism than other FSC-accredited certifiers for its lax interpretation of the FSC's Principles and Criteria. Numerous of its certificates have had to be withdrawn after prolonged controversies which have scarred the credibility of the FSC. As FSC watch has previously reported, SmartWood has been found to have issued FSC certificates to various companies involved in illegal logging; its parent organisation, Rainforest Alliance, also issued 'ethical certificates' to a company which was actually working with Colombian terrorists.

SmartWood's new scheme is, the certifier claims, specifically intended to "enhance the value of FSC certification for small landowners, SMEs and other types of enterprises." This is certainly an area that FSC has seriously neglected (favouring instead to adapt its policies and systems for the largest of the loggers, much to the frustration of many of FSC's members). But the draft "SmartLogging Generic Certification Standard, Version 6" (available below) shows that Rainforest Alliance's proposed new revenue-earner is very much an 'FSC Minus' scheme.

Although closely modelled on the structure of the FSC's Principles and Criteria, much of the valuable content of the P&C's has been stripped out. There is nothing in the 'SmartLogging' draft generic standards about indigenous rights, for example. Formalising what SmartWood has been doing within the FSC system - the certification of companies not on the basis of their actual performance, but on the basis of 'hoped-for future improvements' - the new SmartLogging scheme incorporates the possibility of 'continuous improvement'. There is nothing within the proposed scheme to take account of multiple stakeholder interests.

FSC-Watch believes that, whatever SmartWood claims about its continued support for FSC, this new scheme will be a clear competitor to FSC, and will serve to undermine it. It should mark a final end to SmartWood's inclusion within the FSC system.

We believe this new scheme also shows how vulnerable to rivals the FSC has become because of its continued pitifully poor strategic leadership and management. The members of FSC can continue to expect more rivals to appear, as the management and Board of FSC allow the organisation's credibility to plummet.

SmartWood's draft generic 'SmartLogging' standard is available here: SL02SmartLoggingGenericStandard.pdf.

SmartWood is inviting comments on the proposed new scheme.


I can't help but wonder if Smartwood's current FSC certifications will be diminished in light of this new system. Is this FSC minus certificate available to larger operations? Is it just because the larger corporations have more money to pour into the larger scheme and smaller ones don't?

Nobody really should be surprised at this development. Smartwood has been racing to the bottom in terms of certifying operations as green. This is just an extension of that effort

First, The opening posting by FSC Watch apparently is from Simon Counsel? From a transparency perspective, given that all other submissions to FSC Watch have an actual person or name associated with them (in fact FSC Watch requires that), I request that Simon do the same.

Second, contrary to the claims put forth on FSC Watch, after hundreds of hours of follow up by SmartWood, villages, local indigenous people, government and other parties, zero verifiable evidence (GPS points, actual illegal operations documented, etc.) has been found in either in Laos or Peru (Venao) to support FSC Watch claims. In both cases we have made public statements on our findings, and we will soon make another follow up report available on Venao, after more follow up on both sides of the Brazil/Peru border. So the statement in the initial posting "SmartWood has been found to have issued FSC certificates to various companies involved in illegal logging", today, is false. We are on the constant lookout for information that provides verifiable evidence otherwise, but with all due respect, we cannot accept rumors or allegations as fact.

Third, in classic fashion, you choose the words "rival" to incite others. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact we are implementing SmartLogging in places where small landowners who have no management plans (too often the reality in the Eastern USA where we are currently working on it, and in many, many other locations) and cannot qualify for FSC. Also, we are incorporating the FSC Controlled Wood policy into our SmartLogging work. Finally, we are also doing global stakeholder consultation on the SmartLogging standards, in order to meet ISEAL requirements. If you wish to give specific input on the standards, contact wsmith@ra.org.

Also, Simon and others are fond of saying something like, SW is paid for its clients, thus they will just give the clients want, a certificate... First, as far as I know, organic, Fair Trade, Marine Stewardship Council, SAI, and ISO certification systems - and all financial accounting is done under the same model - ALL use the same model - so I guess you are critiquing them as well. From our experience with some of the other certification systems, other certification systems have a far less robust "auditing of auditors" or accreditation systems than FSC. In fact, I challenge FSC Watch or anyone else to provide us an example of a more rigorous one. Second, we are NOT paid to grant a certificate. We are paid to implement certification audits and systems. We are NOT paid to certify timber. FSC can certify forests with ZERO timber harvesting and we have done so. We are paid to certify forest management and chain of custody as per FSC standards. We are audited every year (many times) in our offices, in the field, and through correspondence by FSC and ASI - we pay them to do this (oops, I guess we shouldn't be doing that either). Some auditors may choose to provide services that are less rigorous and some clients may want that. Our experience is that most clients DON'T want that. We believe that we are at the other end of the spectrum - known within the FSC system for our rigor and commitment to positive change in forests and communities.

As usual, Simon has it wrong. But also as usual, we will attempt to glean something valuable from the comments, and specifically on SmartLogging, again, we very much welcome perspectives on the standards, or any of the very few SmartLogging certificates (2 so far) we have granted in this area. Not much substance in FSC Watch in that regard, but maybe that will change.

A final comment, there is a built in incentive NOT to respond to FSC Watch - virtually every single time we respond (or people that disagree with an FSC Watch perspective), our/their comments are then twisted and turned and used against us, or turns into a never-ending word fight, which typically doesn't change a darn thing in the forest or on the ground. Perhaps it is OK for FSC Watch to do that - at least a few people like it. But we have NEVER done that - it is not our philosophy. There are thousands of other stakeholders who do respond through public meetings, face to face individual meetings, joint visits to sites in the forest, emails, conference calls, or other means during our certification processes and follow up audits. They often fiercely agree or disagree with the results of our work. But we never treat them the way that FSC Watch does. Your choice. Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but we are marching to a different, more respectful, more community-minded, drummer; a drummer that cares about actual realities on the ground, evidence not rumors, and balancing, as required by FSC, between credible stakeholder or other interested party perspectives, actual performance and FSC standards. I do not accept the idea that a stakeholder responding on FSC Watch, deserves more credibility than others.



Whilst vainly searching the Rainforest Alliance website for a mechanism whereby one can freely express ones views (as one can on FSC-Watch) I came across another RA programme that I was not aware of before: 'SmartStep', which RA describes thus:

"To provide more opportunities and incentives for forest management operations to pursue Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, the Rainforest Alliance has developed an innovative service called SmartStep. With SmartStep, forest management operations can take a logical path to achieving FSC certification while gaining access to potential market benefits along the way. Rainforest Alliance auditors identify gaps in the supply chain, then the company identifies an action plan with clearly defined targets. If we approve the action plan, companies can then enroll in SmartStep. The operation is audited over five years on its progress toward meeting the targets."

Now, correct me if I am wrong, but what this essentially consists of is RA providing consultancy advice to logging companies on how they should obtain FSC certification - which presumably RA itself then goes out and certifies.

Again, correct me if I am wrong, but has the practice of FSC-accredited certifiers providing forestry consultancy not been banned by the FSC, for the obvious reason of conflict of interest that such a dual-role represents?

As for all the worthy rhetoric about how RA takes stakeholders views into account, I'm sure FSC-Watch's readers would be very interested to be informed by you of examples of where stakeholders' views have been taken into account by SmartWood in its policies and/or programmes, in such a way that SmartWood has then sacrificed its economic interests for the sake of upholding these views.

Please do feel free to use the comment space on FSC-Watch to provide us with any such examples.



Sorry, but you are wrong on SmartStep. SmartStep is an auditing and certification process that clearly states we will audit an operation's movement towards FSC forest management certification, based on a pre-assessment and an Action Plan - the FME (or consultants that work for them) must develop the Action Plan. SmartStep represents a phased auditing and certification approach; it is NOT technical assistance. Though FSC has not yet put in place an accreditation program for "stepwise approaches" to FSC certification, we have submitted to FSC for review all our documentation and been very clear that we are doing auditing and certification, not technical assistance. We are supportive of FSC accrediting stepwise approaches, when it is ready. As clearly stated in the detailed Program Description which is there on our website "The candidate FME (Forest Management Enterprise) may enlist the help of other consultants or organizations in order to develop the Action Plan. SmartWood will not provide such input or assistance, as this represents a conflict of interest." SmartStep operations cannot put a logo or label (RA or FSC) on-product, they can only make off product claims that clarify their involvement in SmartStep, and on our website we identify enterprises involved in SmartStep. They only appear IF a formal agreement is in place, i.e. pre-assessment complete, Action Plan reviewed and approved by SW, etc. The "Detailed Description" is located on www.smartwood.org, in the same place you already were on the website (or just plug "smartstep" into the search engine.

As to inputs from stakeholders being used in our auditing and certification, this happens every day and there are hundreds of examples. For example, based on inputs from environmental stakeholders, numerous forest operations have establish high conservation value forest areas that are either set aside for zero harvesting or harvesting practices changed to protect HCVs. On the chemical side, enterprises assess current chemical use, identify possible alternatives or reductions, and establish targets for reductions or chemical substitutes. On the social side, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises, use of safety equipment during harvesting or other activities can be an issue (as observed by stakeholders or others), and fundamental improvements (e.g. hardhats) may be a pre-condition. If you have a question on a specific operation and its practices in this regard, I can respond, but I cannot promise an immediate response. It takes to get the information and ensure the facts are correct.



As a forest activist, I must express my frustration.

First, when FSC was started it looked as if it could be something different with respect to forestry. Perhaps the basic practice of clear cutting could be changed to something else. This is not happening.

Eliminating pesticides sounded like it could happen under FSC. It didn't.

We've been trying to get Tembec in Manitoba to follow the basic laws of the land for years. Now, not only does Tembec not intend to follow the laws but they are lobbying to remove those laws from their logging permits. Smartwood is helping them lobby the provincial government to this as well.

When this is brought up to Smartwood, FSC Canada, FSC in Bonn---all I get is the same response that I get from government and industry. I will not participate in a long and complicated process just to get my most basic concerns addressed.

I've been involved with 'talk and log' before.

Can you understand my frustration with the FSC process?

Why should I do anything but oppose FSC?

I've already got two large groups here in the province to publicly oppose the greenwashing that the FSC certificate represents. I don't care how much work you've put into this process. The people who might have cared for the forests have failed to stop industry from taking over.

Dear Sir,

This is Heba Al-Feeshawy quality manager in Akef Pack-tec company we manufature paper bags (with or without paper handles) and sheets.
Our website: akefpacktec@akefpacktec.com
Our current suppliers of paper and paper bags are FSC certified.
I need Technical and financial offer.

Thanks a lot for your kind cooperation.
Eng. Heba El-Feeshawy
Quality Manager
Tel: +202- 39124424 39124505 38290321
Fax: +202- 38290320
Cell: +2 0168830069
Address : Plot No. 473, 475 & 481 extension of 3rd industrial zone, 6th of October city

P Save a tree. Don't print this e-mail unless it's really necessary.

FSC dumps Asia Pulp and Paper – but who was to blame? | FSC-Watch
FSC Watch: FSC dumps Asia Pulp and Paper - but who was to blame?
In December 2007, the FSC announced that it was "dissociating" itself from the giant Sinar Mas-owned Indonesian paper company Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) - see statement below. The news was mostly greeted by the environmental movement, though there is ...

Add a comment

Please leave these fields blank (spam trap):

No HTML please.

You can edit this comment until 30 minutes after posting.

< 99 older entries119 newer entries >