Introducing Sustainable Hardwood Certification

Sustainable Hardwood Certification (SHC) is being established as a cost-effective system to verify the sustainability of hardwoods and to maximise market opportunities for sustainable hardwood products.

Introducing Sustainable Hardwood Certification

SHC aims to provide an effective and verifiable process that will assure end users that hardwood from smallholder managed forests is both legally and sustainably sourced.

SHC responds to the technical constraints to certification in situations where wood supply is from vast numbers of small private family forests, where owners harvest once in a generation, practice very low intensity management, and are not driven by commercial timber demand. Hardwood forests managed in this way offer considerable benefits in terms of enhanced carbon sequestration, resilience in the face of climate and other environmental change, biodiversity, soil and watershed protection, and rural development.  The diverse decorative hardwoods from these forests are also particularly well suited to use in durable, high-value and long-lasting products that have considerably more potential to contribute to carbon storage and climate mitigation than short-lived wood products.

And yet, in circumstances where small non-industrial owners are managing at low intensity there is typically extremely low participation in other certification systems that impose a long list of technical requirements on individual forest owners. A new system is needed that does not impose any burden on the myriad of small-scale private owners and which is tailor-made for the mills that they supply. Whilst achieving these aims SHC also understands the needs of end-consumers to be able to recognise the sustainability of timber. Utilising a risk assessment approach coupled with a jurisdictional focus, SHC offers the promise of a low cost yet robust solution. Add to this a straightforward approach to chain of custody we aim to develop a system that can work at scale and ensure recognition of the sustainability of large areas of previously uncertified forests in ever demanding markets.

To be able to build a new certification system, SHC recognises the need to ensure strong support all along the supply chain, from hardwood forest to consumer. For a new certification system to become credible we will need strong standards developed by experts in the field and supported by a wide range of stakeholders inside and outside the hardwood industry. Above all, for Sustainable Hardwood Certification to work we will seek to build a Coalition of support to sustain its growth and to guide its development.


Do we need another certification scheme?

To date no certification system that has been applied in forest areas around the world that are typified by small scale non-industrial and low intensity hardwood forest operations has been able to successfully work at scale.

Small-scale hardwood producers around the world deserve the opportunity to trade their products on an equal footing with more industrial large volume producers. A bespoke and tailored form of certification is urgently needed.

SHC is the only forest certification scheme which recognises the distinct and inherent sustainability characteristics of durable and diverse hardwood products from small non-industrial forest operations. SHC's role is to:


Allow hardwood certification at scale in regions with fragmented forest ownership


Build on an accumulating wealth of experience of jurisdictional risk assessment to deliver a robust sustainability claim


Deliver certification which is zero cost for individual forest operators


Deliver certification which is low cost to individual hardwood mills


Meet all the criteria of formal procurement policies in both the public and private sector in major international markets


Respond to consumer demand for a simple and universally understood messages in relation to product sustainability


Respond to the continuing lack of technical capacity for forest management unit (FMU) based certification in many regions of the world


Leverage use of new technology in support of these goals

Sustainable forest management
American Red Oak

SHC Governance and Structure

A certification scheme is only as strong as its standards. And SHC intends to develop a suite of credible standards that build on three decades of independent third-party forest and chain of custody certification.

SHC also recognises that it will need to establish a strong governance structure.

An SHC Standards Endorsement Body will be constituted with a mandate to regularly review and endorse SHC standards. This will be chaired by an independent expert with long experience of forest certification and will comprise other experts in certification, forestry and the environment, and representatives of stakeholders with an interest in hardwood forest management.

SHC has started development of two core standards:

SHC Standard 1

Jurisdictional Risk Assessment (JRA) standard for low intensity hardwood harvesting operations

Risk-based and jurisdictional approaches to supply chain certification have evolved over a decade, largely in response to due-care and due-diligence requirements in major markets and for a range of commodities.  

The Principles, Criteria and Indicators contained within the Standard have been developed with reference to a wide range of legislation, standards and guidance. The standard incorporates a high level of consistency and overlap between these sources and the Standard has been developed to apply across differing forest types, jurisdictions, and legislative approaches.

SHC Standard 2

Proof of Sustainable Hardwood Provenance (PoSHP)

A chain of custody (CoC) standard, referred to as the Proof of Sustainable Hardwood Provenance (PoSHP) standard, is being designed to be applied by hardwood mills and other distributors of hardwood products from low-risk hardwood forest operations.


Harnessing the demand

Global hardwood markets are increasingly demanding some form of certification for hardwood products. Hardwood producers that cannot independently confirm both the legality and sustainability of hardwood production will increasingly face barriers to trade.

SHC provides an opportunity for the low intensity hardwood industry to change the conversation around certification. It also provides an opportunity to hardwood producers to enter a market that increasingly demands the assurance of independent third-party certification.

Numerous studies have shown that there is a growing reliance on independent third-party certification. For example, a 2019 survey of timber importing companies throughout the EU and UK by Forest Trends, as part of an assessment of the effectiveness and impact of the EU Timber Regulation, revealed a heavy and growing reliance on certification in response to this regulation, with quite a few operators saying they are moving to eventually source only certified wood[1]. The same conclusions are drawn by three recent studies of the FLEGT Independent Market Monitor (IMM), an EU-funded project. IMM’s 2018 survey of 20 large market leading timber companies in the EU and UK revealed that 19 had an environmental purchasing policy of which 16 indicated a preference for FSC and/or PEFC certified materials[2]. In 2019, IMM showed that at least 20 EU member states (inclusive of UK) set environmental criteria for public procurement of timber products, with a majority favouring FSC or PEFC certification as evidence of sustainability[3]. A 2020 IMM survey highlighted that 10 of 30 green building initiatives in the EU and UK gave credit for the inclusion of FSC or PEFC certified timber products within assessed projects[4]. Typically these green building initiatives state a preference for certified material followed by material that is from a legal and verified source.

Emerging draft EU “Deforestation Legislation” will provide an urgent need to demonstrate a more realistic and effective approach to verification to avoid external imposition of unnecessary, ineffective and inoperable procedures.

International forest policy is increasingly focused on forest governance, zero carbon and zero deforestation. In this context, there is growing recognition of the value of low intensity hardwood forest management to enhance carbon storage and increase forest resilience in the face of climate change.

After nearly three decades of support for certification policy makers are increasingly waking up to the limitations of Forest Management Unit (FMU) certification and are beginning to recognise the opportunities from new forms of verification such as due diligence systems, risk-based verification and jurisdictional certification. There is also increased awareness of the opportunities for more efficient, effective and equitable certification of sustainable timber sourcing offered by new technologies such as remote sensing, stable isotope ratio analysis, DNA analysis and technologies such as blockchain.

[1] Forest Trends, 2021

How is the EU Timber Regulation impacting industry due diligence and sourcing policies?, Marigold Norman, March 2021

[2] FLEGT IMM, 2018 

EU voluntary private sector timber procurement policies & the role of FLEGT licensing

[3] FLEGT IMM, 2019

A study of EU public timber procurement policies, related guidance and reference to FLEGT

[4] FLEGT IMM, 2021

In Section 6.4.4 “FLEGT in Green Building Rating systems” of “FLEGT VPA Partners in EU Timber Trade 2020


SHC – in collaboration

SHC is also exploring opportunities created by new technologies to reduce certification costs further, notably those developed to guarantee provenance being developed by World Forest ID, a consortium of forest policy and research organisations including US Forest Service International Program, Royal Botanical Gardens atKew, London UK, World Resources Institute, and FSC.

Particularly relevant to SHC is the World Forest ID work to establish a reference library of wood samples of the 10 most traded US hardwood species from across growing regions. A successful full-scale trial has already taken place in the state of Kentucky to map white oak and tulipwood.

Visit World Forest ID

Support the Sustainable Hardwood Coalition and be part of something better!

If SHC is going to grow and become the powerful mechanism that is so needed by the hardwood industry – it needs your support.

We have produced a Statement of Support which we hope you agree with and can sign. The Statement can be signed by using the button below.  

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