Side event Wednesday 2 PM – ISO & FSC COC
ISO Chain of Custody for timber: Good or bad news for FSC?
Anne-Sofie Forfang (Communications Manager) · NEPCon

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) plans to launch a new chain of custody (CoC) standard for timber products. What are the implications of this for FSC? While there are still many unknowns, members’ opinions are divided.

zoomISO Chain of Custody for timber: Good or bad news for FSC?ISO Chain of Custody for timber: Good or bad news for FSC?At a side event on Wednesday, FSC’s Chief Advocacy Officer John Hontelez gave a summary of the status quo: members of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) have approved a project to develop an ISO Chain of Custody (CoC)standard for timber products. The first committee meeting has been held, and if all goes to plan the standard will be launched in 2017.

The first question that comes to mind is, why? There are two well-established forestry schemes, each with their own CoC system: FSC and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Many companies holding dual certification find this to be one CoC system too many. Is there really a need to add a third CoC scheme to the mix?

According to Mr Hontelez, ISO has explained its move as a wish to reduce the costs of CoC certification for companies. But the question remains, how this will affect FSC and PEFC?

In July last year, FSC and PEFC took the very unusual step of making a joint statement urging ISO members to vote against the project. They questioned the justification of the project and raised concern that it might undermine existing efforts. FSC now participates in the ISO process as an observer, but doubts still remain.

According to delegates involved in the process, there are different expectations within the ISO Project Committee about whether the standard will merge with, or replace, the FSC and PEFC standards. Will it ensure compliance with timber laws such as the EU Timber Regulation? Will it track timber products right back to the source? Some see an ISO forest management standard as the natural next step.

Mr Hontelez stressed that many questions also remain at the technical level. For example, ISO lacks a CoC framework, and the sourcing of categories and output claims need to be sorted out.

Some delegates opposed the idea of handing over governance of supply chain issues to ISO. Concerns were also raised about the impact on sustainable forest management. The general impression was that this process is surrounded by question marks.

Can ISO be harnessed for the benefit of FSC?

Several delegates doubted that the ISO initiative constitutes a threat to FSC, since it is the FSC brand and logo that the industry needs. Ultimately, it will be up to FSC to decide whether or not the ISO CoC standard will play a role for FSC certificate holders.

Richard Bradley, Chairman of Accreditation Services International, said: “People can make whatever claim they like, it’s the credibility that will be called into question. The publication of an ISO standard won’t change that situation. What claim is important to the market is the key”.

Per Funkquist is from BillerudKorsnäs, a Swedish forest products and packaging company. “We have all the certificates in place to ensure our access to the market: FSC, PEFC, Environmental Product Declaration, and so on. Even our sustainability report is certified. If ISO develops a CoC standard, we’re likely to go for it. So we may be managing three CoC certificates in the future and we want them to be as similar as possible”, he told the delegates.

Andrew Heald of the UK association Confor said many industries are interested in going down the ISO road: “For many, this looks like a big opportunity to reduce costs. Companies currently find that identical paperwork is being paid for twice. A company may undergo FSC auditing in the morning and PEFC auditing in the afternoon. Many also hold ISO 14001 certification”, he explained. “The ISO system doesn’t change very often and when it does, it happens in a set cycle. You get a lot of certainty, which the industry likes. That’s why a lot of companies are interested in the ISO development. They might not have thought it through but that’s why this is gaining support. Big retailers might have as many as 20–30 CoC systems doing the same thing: tracking input and outputs”.

Tammy Coe of the Rainforest Alliance said, “I would not support this if it is intended as a first step toward an ISO forest management standard. However, it’s worth asking if the ISO approach can possibly help consolidate CoC standards to reduce the burden on certificate holders. We are already acknowledging the potential for gaps in the current FSC CoC system, such as inflated volumes and incorrect claims. We’ve been talking about the Online Claims Platform as a tool to address this, but there’s a lot of resistance to that. A consolidated CoC standard may reduce the burden on certificate holders, making other assurance mechanisms more palatable. ISO may seem scary to FSC supporters, but let’s keep an open mind instead of making any predetermined assumptions about it. As voluntary certification systems evolve, it’s important that we consider new approaches to supply chain integrity”.