I have just returned to my desk from a field audit of forest certification. I spent the past two weeks touring Finnish forests with an auditor (and a few mosquitoes) checking that both the forest owners in our certification group and we at Metsä Group have complied with certification standards, and their ecological and social requirements, in the forests. Should any non-conformities or clear errors be detected in the audit, we will address them to improve our operations.
Examining forests from an audit perspective, it is easy to see the many different ways in which certification works in our forests. For example, groups of trees in a felled area, dead trees left standing alone or willows, often solitary, are not there by accident but have been left in the forest for a purpose. Retained and decaying trees are some of the most important ways of increasing biodiversity in commercial forests. They offer protection and nutrition and serve as the base for the gradual development of decaying wood, important to many different species. Aspen, willow and other deciduous trees are especially beneficial as retention trees.
The general attitude towards broadleaved trees is very different now than a few decades ago, when the goal was to get rid of them so for hampering the growth of more economically valuable trees. Even if the previous notion of “worthless trees” may live on, certificates now require broadleaved trees to be saved at different stages of forest management operations.
Burned areas, which may stun a random passer-by with their starkness, are one of the curiosities of certification. Similar to many other requirements of certification standards, the purpose of controlled burning is to improve biodiversity and create habitats for species that depend on burned wood.
Forest certificates call for buffer zones around waterways to prevent nutrient runoffs and safeguard biodiversity and landscape values. Certification also identifies the most important habitats in terms of biodiversity. The expertise of forest specialists is needed for such identification, as well as for planning the placement of retention trees around nature sites.
This year, the focus of social criteria has been on the competence of employees and on fair employment relationships. To inspect these, the auditor interviewed forest management and harvesting workers in the field, checked documentation and contacted relevant authorities to confirm that we ensure the rights and competence of employees throughout the chain.
In all honesty, with the world changing as it is, many of the requirements of certification standards would probably have been implemented even in the absence of standards. Certification standards nevertheless exceed the requirements of legislation. Moreover, the national legislation of a single country does not provide the international product markets and end-users adequate proof of sustainable and responsible forest management. Instead, certificates are used to guarantee sustainability. National standards are the result of negotiations between different parties and they thus combine ecological, social and economic aspects. This also makes them more widely acceptable.
Thanks to certification, nature management has become mainstream in Finnish commercial forests. Without it, forest nature would probably be worse off, and the quality of forest management and nature management would certainly be more divergent, sometimes even absent. True to the nature of certificates, the goal still is continuous improvement, both in forests, guided by certification requirements, and in the development of certificate standards.
During our audit tour, I was pleased to see that forest owners around Finland, as well as we at Metsä Group, have handled forests carefully, professionally and pluralistically – as required by the ecological, social and economic values of the certificates. This is something that the companies and consumers who procure our products made of Nordic wood also want.