A landslide change for U.S. companies to participate in the rapidly growing and important FSC Chain-of-Custody (CoC) system happened just a few days ago. Years of anticipation by companies thriving for a system that is more business-friendly and less cost intensive, have finally come to a “happy” end.

In order to address the needs of smaller companies, FSC, years ago, had already established a Group CoC system. Small companies, such as those represented by a group entity, established an umbrella certificate which covered all the member companies by integrating internal review and control systems. This enabled FSC certifiers to limit the number of on-site inspections and forward those significant cost savings to the group participants.

In the past, in order to be eligible to participate in a group certification, a company either had to have fewer than 15 employees OR have fewer than 25 employees and an annual turnover of no more than $1 million.These requirements clearly did not encompass many companies that were looking to join a potential group certificate. Hence, few group certificates were established in the U.S.

Recently, as part of a comprehensive review of the group requirements, FSC has revised the eligibility criteria for companies in the U.S. No restriction remains for the number of employees, and the annual turnover of forest product sales has been raised from "less than $1 million" to "less than $5 million." It is also important to note that these limits are specific to "annual forest product sales." This means that a company may gross more than $5 million (say in plastics, steel, or consulting).

Furthermore, in the year that a group member surpasses the defined threshold ($5million) its membership would become "transitional." Transitional membership in a group certificate is allowed until growth beyond the surpassed threshold is documented for two consecutive years. At that time, the individual group member is no longer eligible to be part of the group certificate and needs to pursue and transition to an independent single certificate in order to continue its FSC CoC certification. Previously, there was no recourse for companies that had varying yearly sales, so this is another significant, and positive, change. 

Because of these changes, many companies, that previously did not think FSC CoC Certification was affordable, are finding that FSC CoC is now reasonably within reach.

Certifiers in the U.S. are at various stages of responding to these changes. Currently certified companies are encouraged to contact their certifier. if they feel they qualify for the group option. Numerous associations have already started working with us to pursue group certification for their members.

Editor's note: Wolf Pinker is a principle of American Green LLC, an official partner of FSC-accredited certifier GFA Consulting Group providing FSC CoC certification services in the United States and Canada. He has been active in the forestry and certification fields for more than two decades. A fourth generation in the wood business, Pinker has a PhD in environmental performance systems in the wood industry. Contact Pinker at (800) 693-4490, wolf@americangreen.net or visit americangreen.net.

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