Types of certified wood

Forest certification systems are voluntary, market-based tools designed to verify forestry and forest products as “responsible” or “sustainable”, enabling consumers to choose wood and other forest products that meet their environmental and social standards. The major systems in North America are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)[1] and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).[2] Procurement of certified wood can be a relatively straightforward way for project teams to support CSF when a certification standard is strong enough to secure climate benefits.

Why This is Climate Smart

CSF may be practiced under any certification system as well as in forests managed by landowners that choose not to participate in certification programs. However, when using certification as a proxy for identifying and procuring CSW, peer reviewed studies indicate that FSC standards prescribe[3] key elements of CSF to a degree that other systems have yet to achieve.

In general, in order to meet FSC forest management standards, forestry operations must adopt practices that lead to improved long-term outcomes compared to conventional forestry in the three critical areas of: 1) mitigation, 2) adaptation, and 3) equity (see CSF definition).

While FSC requires practices that exceed most forestry regulations in the USA and Canada, SFI does not assure management that reaches significantly beyond the regulatory floor.[4] This difference informs a consensus within the conservation community that FSC is the ecologically stronger standard.[5] Examples of practices required by FSC’s forest management standards that result in greater carbon storage[6] and ecosystem resilience outcomes include:

  • Wider riparian buffers (mitigation)
  • Smaller clearcuts (mitigation & adaptation)
  • Higher levels of live tree retention (mitigation & adaptation)
  • Protection of high-conservation values like old growth and threatened species habitat (mitigation & adaptation)
  • Reduced chemical use (mitigation)
  • Provisions to respect and uphold the rights and interests of Indigenous Peoples and local communities (equity)

It is important to note that CSF may be practiced under any certification system as well as in forests managed by landowners who choose not to participate in certification programs. SFI-certified and non-certified wood may be considered climate smart when additional supply chain transparency and traceability support a conclusion that CSF is being practiced in the source forest.

Traceability & Transparency

Traceability and transparency  are not currently inherent to forest certification systems.[7] However, in the case of FSC which requires performance significantly beyond regulatory baselines, certification reduces the need to map supply chains and verify specific forest origin, forest management plan, or harvest prescription. Wood certified under other certification systems should be complemented by additional information gathering efforts to verify the specific practices that enable a project team to conclude climate benefit compared to status quo practice.

Pros & Cons of Using Certification for Climate Smart Wood Procurement


  • Assurance: Through third-party auditing, assures compliance with a known minimum standard of forest management, though the stringency of that standard varies significantly depending on forest certification system.
  • Does Not Require Traceability/Transparency: Can be the simplest method for acquiring CSW without need for further information gathering, provided that the certification system is sufficiently robust.


  • Lack of Traceability/Transparency: Certification alone does not provide information relating to the forest of origin or the names of businesses in the supply chain. For projects that want to support minority-owned, family-owned, or local businesses this limitation requires additional due diligence. Lack of supply chain information also fails to allow for intentional support of landowners such as Tribal nations or sourcing in support of publicly owned forests being managed to reduce wildfire intensity.
  • Limited Adoption: Many producers, from small landowners to Tribal and government forestry agencies, choose not to get certified for a variety of reasons. Many may be practicing CSF despite lack of certification.
  • Lack of Supply: It can be difficult to acquire certified wood products if certified supply chains are incomplete (the chain of custody is broken) or there is not enough underlying certified forest land. Due to either of these circumstances, project teams may be unable to source desired products that are certified.

[1] FSC is a Leadership Council member of the Climate Smart Wood Group. To avoid a conflict of interest, this procurement guidance was written and reviewed by a group of experts in green building and ecological forestry and CSWG Leadership Council members that did not include FSC. The contents can be verified by readers by referencing the certification systems’ publicly available standards and numerous independent academic studies.

[2] While FSC is a global system, SFI operates only in the U.S. and Canada. Internationally, SFI is one of numerous national forest certification schemes that are united under the umbrella of the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and have the right to use the PEFC name and label. PEFC does not itself set sustainable forestry standards; instead, it endorses systems that meet its international standards and guides. SFI has its own label and brand identity, thus the PEFC label is generally only seen on imported products.

[3] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1086026619858874

[4] https://www.mdpi.com/1999-4907/9/8/447/htm

[5] https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol16/iss1/art3/

[6] https://ecotrust.org/publication/exploring-the-landscape-of-embodied-carbon/

[7] The FSC 100% label, though uncommon in North America, does provide some additional traceability and transparency, especially for products with short supply chains like lumber.