Norwegian wood hit by certification scandal

Newspaper alleges irregularities in labelling scheme for sustainably produced forest products

Norway's environmental certification scheme for forest products has been compromised by allegations that certificates have been awarded despite serious violations of sustainable management principles. In a series of investigative reports, national newspaper Aftenposten claims that forest owners are charging industrial giant Norske Skog a premium for wood certified to come from "sustainably managed" forests that are nothing of the kind.

Aftenposten cites a number of observations of tree-felling in protected areas, failure to register "key biotopes" and other failings. The consequence, for foreign buyers of paper in particular, the newspaper writes, is that "they have unwittingly associated themselves with a false environmental guarantee". In some cases, it adds, scientists conducting environmental audits were themselves working for forest owners.

The first Norwegian certificates for sustainable forest management were awarded by classification and standards authority Det Norske Veritas (DNV) in 1998. Certification criteria conform to a 23-point agreement between the forest industry and environmentalists known as Living Forests, which is based in part on the international environmental management standard ISO 14001.

Living Forests is currently seeking endorsement under the Pan-European Forest Certification (PEFC) scheme, currently under development (ENDS Daily 1 July 1999), along with similar national certification schemes in operation in Sweden and Finland.

Aftenposten's allegations have provoked uproar in the Norwegian forestry and wood products industries. DNV is reluctant to comment, though one Nordic PEFC official told ENDS Daily today that "the burden of proof [of the Norwegian system] must lie with the supervising authority".

Follow Up:
Aftenposten, tel: +47 22 86 30 00, and article series author sveinung.jensen@aftenposten.no ; DNV, tel: +47 67 57 99 00; Norske Skog, tel: +47 74 08 70 00.

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