What is sustainable forest management?

Sustainable forest management creates outcomes that are socially just, ecologically sound and economically viable – the three pillars of sustainability.

What is sustainable forest management?

"The stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems."

As defined by Forest Europe and adopted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Given the importance of forests to the planet, sustainable management is essential to ensure society’s demands don’t compromise the resource. Sustainable forest management offers a holistic approach to ensure forest activities deliver social, environmental and economic benefits, balance competing needs and maintain and enhance forest functions now and in the future. Forest certification is the tool to demonstrate this and to connect the consumer with the sustainable origins of their products.

Video 8:25

Humans of the Forests: Forest tour, Italy

Discover the daily work of foresters in Asiago, Northern Italy.

The three pillars of sustainability

Sustainable forest management creates outcomes that are socially just, ecologically sound and economically viable – the three pillars of sustainability.

We cannot separate, compartmentalize or address individually these pillars. If one pillar is missing, we cannot protect our forests, forest-dependent communities and rural economies cannot thrive, illegal logging will not be abated and development opportunities will not be captured.

What does this mean on the ground?

There is more than one way to manage a forest sustainably.

Forests are highly diverse, from evergreen eucalyptus forests in Tasmania to tropical rainforests in South America and the Congo Basin and boreal forests in Canada. 

Similarly, their management differs greatly, along with local traditions, cultural and spiritual expectations, average property sizes and support structures such as forest owner associations. 

At PEFC, we ensure that national sustainable forest management requirements are always tailored to the needs of the specific forest ecosystems, the legal and administrative framework, the socio-cultural context and other locally relevant factors.

However, all national sustainable forest management requirements must include the following:

  • Maintenance, conservation and enhancement of ecosystem biodiversity
  • Protection of ecologically important forest areas
  • Prohibition of forest conversions
  • Recognition of free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples
  • Promotion of gender equality and commitment to equal treatment of workers
  • Promotion of the health and well-being of forest communities
  • Respect for human rights in forest operations
  • Respect for the multiple functions of forests to society
  • Provisions for consultation with local people, communities and other stakeholders
  • Respect for property and land tenure rights as well as customary and traditional rights
  • Compliance with all fundamental ILO conventions for worker rights
  • Working from minimum wage towards living wage levels
  • Prohibition of genetically modified trees and most hazardous chemicals
  • Exclusion of certification of plantations established by conversions, including conversions of ecologically important non-forest lands (e.g. peatlands)
  • Climate positive practices such as reduction of GHG emissions in forest operations

Find out more about how our global standards are adapted to local needs.

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