Forest certification programs have become ubiquitous over the past 25 years. Between the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), around 30% of the 360 million privately-owned timberland acres in the United States are under certification (some land is certified by multiple organizations, challenging an exact measure). In addition to certifying forest management for timberland owners, SFI and FSC offer certification of wood fiber sourcing and chain of custody to suppliers and manufacturers. These procurement standards support responsible fiber procurement from the non-certified portion of the land base. Estimating the proportion of U.S. wood consumed by certified wood users is not straightforward; we attempted to address that knowledge gap.
We searched the publicly-available SFI and FSC databases for wood-using mills with wood fiber sourcing or chain of custody certifications and cross-referenced these locations with our mill database. The mills that we were able to verify account for more than 80% of the total wood use in the U.S. (roundwood and chips). The wood-fiber sourcing of the top twenty wood-using companies in the United States are all covered by SFI certification. These mills represent 286 million tons of annual wood-using capacity, or 58% of the total U.S. wood-using capacity.
Rates of wood-fiber sourcing certification vary by sector (Figure 1). SFI-certified mills account for 97% of the wood consumed by the pulp and paper industry. The majority of pulp mills are FSC certified as well – 90% of the wood used by this sector goes to mills that maintain dual certification. The panel sector (including plywood, OSB, and other panel products) ranks behind pulp, with 88% of the wood going to certified mills. SFI covers 81% of the wood used at panel mills, while 48% of the wood goes to facilities covered by FSC.
Lumber lags behind the other sectors, with approximately 54% of the wood consumed by certified mills. While we were able to confirm that 24% of the wood used at lumber mills is not covered by any forest certification standard, we were unable to verify the certification status of mills consuming the remaining 22%. The size of the average sawmill, as compared to a pulp or panel mill, could be related to the level of certification in this sector. Considering only lumber mills that consume at least 300,000 tons per year, 75% of the capacity is covered by SFI or FSC certification.