Forest certification arose in response to concerns about the preservation of the world's forests. It developed as a result of the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio, which defined "sustainable development" as a common goal of human development.
PEFC was founded in 1999 in response to the specific requirements of small- and family forest owners as an international umbrella organization providing independent assessment, endorsement and recognition of national forest certification systems.
PEFC responded to the need for a mechanism enabling the independent development of national standards tailored to the political, economic, social, environmental and cultural realities of the respective countries, while at the same time ensuring compliance with internationally-accepted requirements and global recognition.
After the successful endorsement of certification systems in Europe, Australia and Chile became the first non-European national standards to be endorsed by PEFC in 2004. PEFC’s certification criteria are based on globally recognized principles, guidelines and criteria developed by international and intergovernmental bodies with broad consensus from interested stakeholders.
Today, PEFC is the world’s largest forest certification system and the certification system of choice for small forest owners.
PEFC was established in 1999 by national organizations from eleven countries representing a wide range of interests to promote sustainable forest management especially among small forest managers.
PEFC recognized the first national system in 2000, enabling forest owners and managers in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Germany and Austria to certify their responsible forest management practices.
In 2001, in an effort to integrate social concerns more fully in its activities, PEFC became the first global forest certification organization to require compliance with all the fundamental ILO conventions in forest management. 2001 also marks the year when social and environmental representatives joined the PEFC International's Board of Directors.
In 2004, Australia and Chile became the first non-European national systems to be endorsed by PEFC.
With the endorsement of the Canadian standard in 2005, PEFC became the world's largest forest certification system with more than 100 million hectares of certified forest area.
2005, Finland became the first system to be re-endorsed under PEFC's mandatory five-year re-assessment requirement. This year also saw the first suspension of a national certification standard. The Swiss system was suspended for non-compliance with three PEFC requirements. This suspension was lifted in 2006 after the appropriate corrective action had been implemented.
In 2007, PEFC reached the 200 million hectare milestone of certified forests, bringing two-thirds of the world's total certified forest area under PEFC certification.
The next year, in 2008, PEFC decided to move its international headquarters from Luxembourg to Geneva, Switzerland in order to be closer to its international stakeholders in the UN, non-governmental organizations and other partners.
In 2009, Gabon became the first African standard – and the first standard in the tropics – to be endorsed. A few months later, Malaysia's standard became the second PEFC-endorsed system in a tropical country.
PEFC became the first global forest certification system to introduce social aspects in Chain of Custody certification in 2010 and to completely revise its international sustainable forest management requirements. The organization also approved the Rio Forest Certification Declaration at its General Assembly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
China joined PEFC in 2011. In the same year, PEFC also launched the Collaboration Fund, a competitive small grants program that supports locally relevant advancements in the sustainable management of forests.
15 additional forest certification systems were reported to develop or prepare for the development of a PEFC compliant national forest certification system in 2012. William Street, PEFC Chairman, received the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights.
In 2013, PEFC became the first global certification system to align its Chain of Custody standard with the the European Union Timber Regulation. PEFC also held its very first PEFC Forest Certification Week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
2014 was a busy year for endorsements, as China and Indonesia became the second and third Asian countries respectively and Argentina the fourth South American country to achieve PEFC-endorsement of their national forest certification systems. Japan also joined as a National member.
India and New Zealand joined PEFC as National members in 2015, and Finland became the first country to achieve PEFC re-endorsement for a third time. At the end of the year, New Zealand also achieved PEFC endorsement.
In early 2016 Hungary joined as a National member.
In the 16 years since it was created, PEFC has strengthened its approach which has been adopted by increasing numbers of stakeholders making it today the world's largest forest certification system.
It is the certification system of choice for small forest owners, with hundreds of thousands of forest owners certified to PEFC.