The PEFC standards – the core of what we do

What is a PEFC standard and how do we ensure they continue to be innovative, relevant and effective? And are the same standards applied all over the world?

The PEFC standards – the core of what we do

26 March 2020 20th anniversary

Our standards and technical documents are at the heart of our work at PEFC. But what is a PEFC standard and how do we ensure they continue to be innovative, relevant and effective? And are the same standards applied all over the world?

At PEFC we are convinced that one size does not fit all when it comes to forest certification. Forests are highly diverse; as is their management, local traditions, cultural and spiritual expectations, average property sizes and support structures. 

This is why we work through national forest certification systems, enabling countries to tailor their sustainable forest management requirements to their specific forest ecosystems, the legal framework and the socio-cultural context.

While these national systems are developed locally, they need to undergo rigorous third-party assessment to ensure consistency with international requirements.

The PEFC standards

We distinguish between two types of international standards

  • International benchmark standards are used by our national members to develop their national standards. The benchmark standards set out the requirements that national standards must meet in order to achieve PEFC endorsement. Our Sustainable Forest Management standard is a benchmark standard.
  • International standards are applied directly in the field. These include our standards for Chain of Custody and Trademarks, which are used by thousands of companies, certification bodies and accreditation bodies around the world.

Making the best even better – the advancement of our standards over time

To ensure the highest level of credibility for our standards, internationally recognized processes have always been core to PEFC. When we first developed our standards, we adapted requirements that had just been approved by the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe one year earlier, involving thousands of stakeholders in their elaboration.

Internationally recognized processes have always been core to PEFC.

From this basis, standards have been further developed in PEFC at national and international levels. This happens through multi-stakeholder standard setting processes, with PEFC acting as convener and facilitator.

From the beginning, our standards have been oriented on the latest scientific research and best practices from the field. But in order to keep them up to date, they have to be revised regularly.

In 2001, we implemented the seven core ILO conventions into our guidelines on standard setting. They include fair wages, respect for property and land tenure rights, human rights to indigenous people and local communities, and prohibition of the most hazardous chemicals.

In 2010, we became the first global forest certification system to consider social requirements for chain of custody certification. In the following years, we developed guidelines for the avoidance of Controversial Sources, added recycled materials to the new standard requirements and aligned our Chain of Custody standard with the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR).

PEFC has always been innovation driven: Beyond the bottom-up approach, we coined the concept of group certification and were the first forest certification system to recognize the need to certify Trees outside Forests.

The latest round of revisions

The latest revision process of our international standards started in 2016 and has involved the whole PEFC alliance, hundreds of experts and thousands of stakeholders. Six of our seven key technical documents have already been revised in that process.

The 2020 versions of these three standards were approved by our General Assembly in February 2020. The changes in the Chain of Custody standard make PEFC certification more resource-efficient and environmentally friendly. We expanded our Due Diligence System (DDS), raising the bar for the small amount of uncertified material that can be mixed with certified material. The revised Trademarks standard strengthens the consistent use of our PEFC trademarks, while making it easier to understand what the PEFC logo stands for. The revised Requirements for Certification Bodies require that auditors have specific experience on PEFC chain of custody audits.

Entered into force in 2018, the revised Sustainable Forest Management standard made PEFC certification accessible to millions of famers and smallholders, by expanding its scope to Trees outside Forests. The Group Forest Management Certification standard includes improved requirements for internal auditing to enable even more small forest owners to pool their resources and jointly apply for PEFC certification.

The main change in these revised documents is that PEFC endorsement of a national system no longer has an expiry date. Instead, it is linked to the national periodic review, which must be started within five years of the approval date of the national standard. Periodic reviews aim at ensuring that national systems are consistently updated to meet national and international expectations.

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