Responsible Wood Marketing and Communications Officer, Jason Ross, sat down with Mark Thomson, Australian representative and judge at the World Architecture Festival – Best Use of Certified Timber, to discuss all things Responsible Wood, PEFC International and forest certification more generally.

Mark Thomson: Hi Jason, thank you for agreeing to sit down with me today. First things first, can you please identify appropriate Australian Standards as they apply to forest certification and confirm whether these standards are the most appropriate standards used by architects looking to source timbers from sustainable forests?

Jason Ross: As it stands there are two endorsed Australian Standards for forest certification;

  • AS 4708: 2013 Sustainable Forest Management
  • AS 4707: 2014 Chain of Custody for Forest Products

Copies of both standards are freely available for download from the Responsible Wood website.  

These are the only endorsed Australian Standards for Sustainable Forest Management as well as the chain of custody carried by timber processes, merchants, manufacturers and retailers.

When it comes to architectural specification Chain of Custody is king.

Mark: You mention Chain of Custody as important for architects and specifiers. What is Chain of Custody and why is it important?

Jason: Chain of Custody is a commitment from timber processors, merchants, manufacturers and retailers to ensure that the timber sourced from sustainable forest sources are supported and maintained through the total timber-based supply chain.

Mark: Excellent, you mentioned Australian Standards. Why are the Australian Standards important for forest certification and what role do benchmarks play in promoting sustainable business practices?

Jason: The Australian Standard follows a typical ISO standard and it meets specific ‘meter standards’ for economic, social and environmental benchmarks through PEFC International. The infamous triple-bottom line! The standards are reviewed every 5 years and must meet a comprehensive standards development process.

The Responsible Wood certification scheme uses the Australian Standards for forest certification and requires that scheme holders meet the standards for practice with compliance audited by independent certification bodies endorsed by Standards Australia.

Mark: Okay, so the role of Australian Standards is important in demonstrating the sustainable credentials of timber from its source. You mentioned PEFC International, what is PEFC and why is it important in setting ‘meter standards’ for economic, social and environmental benchmarks?

Jason: PEFC is one of two global forest certification schemes. PEFC identifies a range of baseline ‘meter standards’ or compulsory minimum benchmarks which must be met in order to achieve international endorsement and mutual recognition through the PEFC International network.

 Mark: So PEFC sets minimum benchmarks for the Responsible Wood certification scheme?

Jason: Correct.

As for the question of PEFC International, it provides mutual recognition and international endorsement for Responsible Wood, it was set up to provide international benchmarks for forest managers to demonstrate sustainable forest management;

  • PEFC stands for the ‘Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification,’ it was set up in 1999 to promote sustainable forest stewardship worldwide, it is one of two global forest certification schemes that uses certification bodies to demonstrate and verify compliance to environmental, social and economic benchmarks
  • As it stands more than 309 million hectares of defined forest area, in more than 49 countries is covered by PEFC certification
  • PEFC is used by forest managers (and timber suppliers through chain of custody membership) to demonstrate the sustainable origin of timber and is used by importers and exporters to demonstrate timber legality
  • Where PEFC differs from other forest certification schemes, in order for a country to develop a PEFC scheme, the country must establish a ‘National Governing Body’ (there are 49 NGB’s worldwide), with the NGB responsible for developing a national endorsed standard that must meet the PEFC ‘meter standards’ for the environment, social and economic triple bottom line
  • The certification bodies use these national endorsed standards to audit and assess scheme holder practices to verify and demonstrate compliance.

In Australia, Responsible Wood is the endorsed national governing body for PEFC. In New Zealand it’s the ‘New Zealand Forest Certification Association’ and in the USA it’s the ‘Sustainable Forest Initiative.’

Mark: National Governing Bodies???

Jason: The national governing bodies (and nationally endorsed standards) are different from country to country but they all the ‘meter standards’ as set by PEFC and therefore have mutual recognition between countries.

In Australia, Responsible Wood manages the Responsible Wood Certification Scheme and we use the Australian Forestry Standard as cited in AS 4708:2013 – Sustainable Forest Management and AS 4707:2014 – Chain of Custody for Forest Products.

The trade of timber under the PEFC scheme is significantly larger then under all other forest certification schemes based on the significantly larger footprint of forest management under the PEFC scheme

Mark: So to clarify, Responsible Wood uses the Australian Forestry Standard?

Jason: This is an important distinction. Responsible Wood manages the forest certification scheme, the Australian Forestry Standard refers to the Australian Standard for Forestry as cited in AS 4708:2013 and AS 4707:2014

Mark: And Responsible Wood is the Australian National Governing Body for PEFC certification and through PEFC International, Responsible Wood has international endorsement and mutual recognition through the PEFC International Network?

Jason: That’s correct. Responsible Wood is the National Governing Body for forest certification in Australia. We oversee the standard development and administer the Responsible Wood Certification Scheme.

It is through Responsible Wood forest certification, forest growers, processors, merchants and retailers can demonstrate commitment to environmental and socially responsible forestry and receive mutual recognition through the PEFC International Network.

Mark: Thank you for clearing that up.  I have question about timber species. It is clear that PEFC endorsement provides forest growers, processers, merchants and retailers opportunities in the global market but what about local sourcing? Can you identify a range of Australian timbers that are currently available under Responsible Wood certification?

Jason: It depends on the species of trees covered by Responsible Wood / PEFC certification in Australia.

A list of forest certified by Responsible Wood can be accessed from the Responsible Wood website.

By and large the vast majority of tree species used for commercial forestry are covered by the Responsible Wood certification scheme.

When it comes to timbers, especially fine hardwood timbers that are commonly used for architectural specification, Responsible Wood is the only option for environmentally conscious construction professionals that wish to locally source timbers that meet responsible forestry practices. 

Mark: So hardwoods and softwoods?

Whether it be hardwoods such as Blackbutt, Jurrah, Merbau, Spotted Gum, Tasmanian Oak or Victorian Ash or softwoods like Hoop Pine, Radiata Pine, Spruce, Western Red Cedar or White Cypress Responsible Wood (and for imported species PEFC) certified timber is a must for construction professionals.

For more information about timber species or materials I encourage you to visit the Wood Solutions website.

Mark: Wood Solutions?

Wood Solutions is a leading resource for design and building professionals, it is a must for any architects, engineers or construction professionals looking to use timber on construction projects.

More than 80% of all hardwoods and softwoods identified on the Wood Solutions website is available under the Responsible Wood certification scheme.

If you identify a species of timber on the list and you are unsure if it is certified under the Responsible Wood certification scheme, please contact Responsible Wood and we will confirm whether the species is covered by forest certification.

Mark: So its fair to say that the supply of Responsible Wood certified timber is plentiful? Can you outline the argument or need for forest certification?

Jason: Forest certification demonstrates the timbers used on construction projects or in the manufacturing process are sourced from sustainable origins. It is a prerequisite for many Australian government projects under federal, state and local government procurement guidelines and it can be used by specifiers, developers, builders and architects to demonstrate timber legally under the Commonwealth Illegal Logging Procurement Act 2012 (Cth).

With more then 80% of all Australian timbers sourced from commercial forests, certified under Responsible Wood / PEFC most of the timber can be easily traced through forest certification.

The key is to ensure that the processor, the secondary processor, the manufacturer, the merchant, the retailer and the distributer is participating in the Chain of Custody scheme to ensure that the timber is not mixed with timber that is uncertified.

Mark: So its all about Chain of Custody, ensuring that the link is not broken and the claim on the timber is maintained? Can you please explain the Chain of Custody process?

Jason: Chain of Custody is crucial; it ensures that the timber is source from the tree felled in the forest maintains its certification through the supply and value chain.

All too often timbers from certified sources are mixed with timbers from illegal sources, with the timbers used on building projects effectively breaking the chain of custody. This is a issue with the globalised timber markets where Australian and overseas timbers are often mixed together in the secondary processing market.

Chain of Custody is therefore an important ‘cross check’ ensuring that the timber sourced from the distributer, merchant or retailer is sourced from sustainable origins and meets all important timber legality requirements.

Mark: Timber legality requirements? Can you explain the illegal logging issue in detail?

Jason: Sure, as the flow of timber through import and export markets are global great care must be taken in ensuring that the timber used is sourced legally in the country of its harvest. We call this the Due Diligence Process or the ‘DDP.’

Forest Certification is an invaluable tool which can be used by the timber supply chain to ensure that timber sourced meets legal requirements in the country of its harvest.

Mark: Thank you for answering some important questions. For more questions about Responsible Wood and forest certification more broadly, who should I contact?

Jason: For more information please visit the Responsible Wood website