Sustainable forestry

Defining sustainable forest management

Copyright: Bernabé F.A. Della MattiaAlthough there is no single universally agreed definition of sustainable forest management (SFM) the most widely, inter-governmentally agreed definition is the one adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 2007: 

“Sustainable forest management, as a dynamic and evolving concept, aims to maintain and enhance the economic, social and environmental value of all types of forests, for the benefit of present and future generations. It is characterised by seven elements, including: (i) extent of forest resources; (ii) forest biological diversity; (iii) forest health and vitality; (iv) productive functions of forest resources; (v) protective functions of forest resources; (vi) socio-economic functions of forests; and (vii) legal, policy and institutional frameworks”.

Several international agreements have attempted to define SFM, in many cases making reference to different geographical regions. The main ones are:

  • Forest Principles. UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 (UNCED)

  • FOREST EUROPE - the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE) – the so called “Pan-European Forest Process”, started with Helsinki's conference in 1993

  • African Timber Organization (ATO)

  • International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO)

  • Montreal Process on Criteria and Indicators for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Temperate and Boreal Forests   

The Pan-European Forest Process (MCPFE) has defined 6 criteria for SFM:

  1. Maintenance and appropriate enhancement of forest resources and their contribution to global carbon cycles
  2. Maintenance of forest ecosystem health and vitality
  3. Maintenance, conservation and appropriate enhancement of biological diversity in forest ecosystems
  4. Maintenance and appropriate enhancement of protective functions in forest management (notably soil and water)
  5. Maintenance and encouragement of productive functions of forests (wood and non wood)
  6. Maintenance of other socio-economic functions and condition  

Forest management certification schemes

Forest management certification schemes provide a way of verifying, through third party and independent verification, that forest products are sourced from a sustainably managed forest. Certification schemes include mechanisms for tracing products from the forest of origin through the supply chain, to the end consumer. The certification of the supply chain is called Chain of Custody (CoC). Acceptable forest certification schemes thus provide evidence of legal and sustainable timber through a SFM and/or CoC certificate.

At the international level, two main forest certification schemes exist :

Alea FSC Copade Rakvere Miskolc Anci Madera Justa Madrid ICLEI Europe - Local governments for Sustainability

European Union This website has been produced with the assistance of the European Union.
The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the Sustainable Timber Action Project Consortium and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.