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The GFTN Guide to Legal and Responsible Sourcing

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10.0 Environmental Status of Supplies - Credibly Certified Source

Credibly Certified Source

The term "credibly certified forest product" refers to timber originating in forests that have been independently assessed and certified as being well managed; that is, they are managed in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable manner. The independent certification process requires that standard setting, accreditation and auditing all be performed by different independent bodies. Forest certification inspections or audits are carried out by third party certification bodies. These certifiers in turn are accredited by an independent accreditation body. The forest audits must be site-specific and should assess management at the level of the forest management unit against measurable, recognized performance standards. These standards must include minimum thresholds for economic, social, and environmental criteria.

Final customers (purchasers of goods not for resale/consumers) seek assurance in the form of a chain-of-custody certificate that the timber products they are sourcing are from credibly certified forests. This form of certification requires that businesses that handle certified forest timber demonstrate that their certified timber and raw materials are produced under a credible chain-of custody system. Chain-of-custody certification can be coupled with a logo or label that can be used, where desirable, to identify timber from well-managed and certified forest operations. Independent forest certification and the associated market in certified forest products are both market-driven and stakeholder driven processes.

What Does Credibly Certified Mean?


  • The source forest is certified as  well managed under a credible forest certification system. Currently WWF considers the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) the only credible certification system to ensure environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, an economically viable management of forests.


  • Confirmation that the source forest is covered by a forest management certificate issued under a credible forest certification system at the time of harvesting.
  • Confirmation that supplier has a valid chain of custody certificate number and product group list, issued by an accredited certification body under a credible forest certification system.

Credible Forest Certification Systems

Forest certification aims to provide reliable information for end users and consumers of forest products, assuring them that the forests from which the timber originated are managed according to high environmental, social and economic standards. Over the last decade, various forest certification systems have developed to meet the requirements of different stakeholders.

To meet WWF’s basic requirements for a credible forest certification system, the system must:

  • Be based on objective, comprehensive, independent, and measurable performance-based standards—both environmental and social; be based on equal and balanced participation of a broad range of stakeholders;
  • Be based on a labelling system that includes a credible chain of custody (certification of specified timber as traceable back to its raw material source by a third party, e.g., an accredited certification body);
  • Be based on reliable and independent third-party assessments and include annual field audits;
  • Be fully transparent to the parties involved and the public;
  • take place at the forest management unit level (and not at the country or regional level);
  • Be cost-effective and voluntary;
  • Positively demonstrate commitment from the forest owner or manager toward improving forest management; and be applicable on a global scale and to all sorts of tenure systems, to avoid discrimination and distortion in the market place.

Using the above criteria, WWF developed a tool called the Forest Certification Assessment Tool (CAT), which will continue to be used to assess a range of schemes and define an appropriate level of acceptability. Within the multi-scheme environment that exists today, WWF and the GFTN will support all schemes that reach a level of credibility as defined by the Guide or any future tools developed.

Recent assessments show that the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification system best meets WWF’s key requirements as described by CAT. Thus, while WWF acknowledges that several schemes may contribute to improved forest management, WWF will continue to use the FSC as the internationally recognized hallmark of responsible forest management.

The sourcing organization is urged to monitor developments in credible certification wherever possible to engage in debate, trials and discussions that will raise the level of understanding and long-term improvements in the credibility of schemes, leading to improved forest management practices.

Checking Whether a Source is Credibly Certified

The organization should ensure that it obtains a chain-of-custody certificate that is relevant to the timber or materials supplied. The authenticity or scope of the certificate can be checked either at the FSC website or, in some cases, at the website of the certification body.

More information regarding credible forest certification and WWF’s support can be found here.

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