Third party certification is a system by which an organization checks on the sustainable forestry practices of a timber producer. If the practices are acceptable, products made by the producer can carry a label that lets consumers know the products were made following sustainable forestry practices.
There are several third party certification programs in existence in the world. The largest certification group in North America is the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). SFI and other third party certification groups follow certain international agreements and protocols, the most significant of which is known as the Montréal Process. The Montréal Process establishes the following general criteria for sustainable forestry:
- Conservation of biological diversity
- Maintenance of productive capacity of forest ecosystems
- Maintenance of forest ecosystem health and vitality
- Conservation and maintenance of soil and water resources
- Maintenance of forest contribution to global carbon cycles
- Maintenance and enhancement of long-term multiple socioeconomic benefits to meet the needs of societies
- Legal, institutional and policy framework for forest conservation and sustainable management
SFI is not intended to replace various nations' laws that already regulate forestry practices. In fact, SFI's guidelines can encourage nations to adopt better forestry laws because they won't certify timber imported from nations with inadequate laws. SFI itself is independent of any specific government.
Before a producer can become certified by SFI, they must undergo a third-party audit. This audit checks that they meet or exceed water quality laws, follow practices outlined in SFI's guidelines and work to protect endangered species.