Does forest certification matter? An analysis of operation-level changes required during the SmartWood certification process in the United States
One controversial and contested issue concerning forest certification is whether this market-based instrument actually requires participating forestry operations to follow more sustainable practices. While previous studies have explored and compared the standards used by different certification systems, our research sheds additional light on this question by systematically assessing documented conditions and pre-conditions that forest companies seeking FSC certification in the United States were required to address in order to obtain, or maintain, their certificates. We examined the changes that 80 SmartWood-certified forestry operations were required to make to forest management, ecological, social, and procedural elements of their forestry practices as a requirement of the certification process. We found that systems elements such as Management Plans, Monitoring and Inventory most frequently required change (by 94%, 79% and 71% of certified operations, respectively), followed by ecological elements such as High Conservation Value Forests and Woody Debris, Snags and Legacy Trees (by 71% and 63% of operations, respectively). We also found regional differences in the number of changes operations are required to make during certification, and found that operations located in states with mandatory Best Management Practices (BMPs) are required to make fewer changes during the certification process than those in states where BMPs are voluntary. We found that small and large operations were given roughly the same number and type of conditions and preconditions. Overall the results show that even the early adopters of certification were required to make important changes as a result of the certification process.