Exploring certification solutions for Trees outside Forests

Trees outside Forests were traditionally outside the scope of PEFC ‘forest’ certification, but with our latest Sustainable Forest Management benchmark standard, this has changed.

Exploring certification solutions for Trees outside Forests


Trees grow in forests, but they also grow beyond the forest, throughout landscapes and within cities. These trees outside forests provide vital ecosystem services like clean air and water, habitat for animals, and climate regulation. They also provide food, materials and rural livelihoods for millions of people.

Trees outside Forests were traditionally outside the scope of PEFC ‘forest’ certification, preventing the certification of their sustainable management. But with our latest Sustainable Forest Management benchmark standard, this has changed.

Pioneering a new approach

Since late 2015, we focused on building a pioneering approach towards certification of Trees outside Forests, also known as TOF.

From trees growing in hedgerows, scattered on farms and throughout landscapes to along streets in urban areas, we needed to tailor this new approach to the unique conditions of trees growing at low density on agriculture and settlement land.  

The approach also needed to be practical and affordable to farmers or other land managers, who are often growing trees as just one of their many crops.

Group certification plays a key role, to ensure we extend TOF certification across multiple landowners, thereby increasing the cost-effectiveness and the potential for delivering positive impact in the landscape.   

Extending the impact of PEFC beyond the forest

Certifying areas of land with Trees outside Forests extends the impact of PEFC certification beyond the boundaries of the forest.

Through encouraging the planting of trees and improved management of TOF in ways that optimize their social, environmental and economic contributions, we can promote an additional natural solution to climate mitigation within forest certification.  

Complementing this land-use impact is also the potential for increasing the supply of wood and forest products, as the renewable and environmentally friendly material, to a growing global population.  

Supporting rural development

TOF certification will also encourage and recognize agroforestry practices and support small landowners to access markets that are requiring proof of sustainably management as delivered through PEFC certification.  

This will increase income generation opportunities for rural populations and in parallel support the delivery of a range of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

Improving sustainability of urban forests

With sustainable cities a big focus of the Paris agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, expanded PEFC certification will better support cities and municipalities in improving the sustainable management of their trees and urban forests.  

Through pursuing PEFC certification in urban areas, the contribution of trees and forests to environment health and the well-being of society is reinforced, and the leadership and responsible management demonstrated by the administration can be verified and recognized.  

Taking the pressure off natural forests

Finally, TOF certification also stands to take the pressure off natural forests in countries where the pressure and exploitation of the resource is too great or where there are already logging bans in place.

For instance, in India it is estimated that nearly 90% of wood consumed by the country’s forest-product industries comes from Trees outside Forests.

Now our TOF certification options are available, it will begin to support the management, traceability and ability of India, as other countries, to ensure the long-term sustainable management of their resource base, while producing more certified, sustainable products for domestic and international markets.

Progress so far

Work began in 2015 when we convened experts from around the world to discuss and consider how, and if, PEFC could develop a certification solution appropriate for Trees outside Forests. We then worked within the Sustainable Forest Management Working Group, as part of the latest standards revision process.  

A series of commissioned research papers and a number of pilot projects in different locations informed the process. Most importantly, a 15-person task force with strong expertise in agroforestry, farm forestry, smallholders and innovation drove the TOF approach. This task force developed and proposed the methodologies and the draft documents to the SFM Working Group.

The process led to the Appendix 2 - Guidelines for the interpretation of requirements for Trees outside Forests (TOF) found within the revised Sustainable Forest Management benchmark standard. This standard was approved by the PEFC General Assembly on 14 November 2018.

No doubt our approach will continue to evolve over time as we continue learning, as national standards appropriate for TOF are developed and as TOF certification is implemented.

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