The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the key wood certification standard-setter in green construction, is doubling its accreditation administration fees for chain of custody (COC) certification as well as retaliating against certifying bodies that suggest other standard-setters' rules are as good as FSC's.

The fees are based on annual sales of forest products. A dealer with wood sales of $1 million to $5 million would see the annual fee for administering accreditation to rise to $400 from $200, while dealers with $5 million to $25 million worth of wood sales would pay $800 rather than $400. FSC's board of directors approved the action in October. The increases will take effect in January.

The accreditation administration fees are part of a bigger package of expenses that dealers pay each year to the independent bodies that do certifying on FSC's behalf. Those groups--most prominently SGS Systems & Services Certification, Scientific Certification Systems Inc., and Bureau Veritas Certification--are called certifying bodies, and typically they charge about $3,000 to inspect a lumberyard and approve it for a CoC certificate. Now, as a result of the fee change, a yard in the $5 million to $25 million category will pay about $3,400.

The FSC requires all companies that transport wood from the forest to the construction site to obtain chain of custody certification and then take steps to assure FSC-marked lumber doesn't get mixed in with unmarked stuff. The system helps assure that builders who want to use FSC-certified lumber--cut from wood raised and harvested in what the FSC regards as an environmentally sensible manner--are actually getting FSC-certified wood.

Builders, in turn, care about FSC because it's the only wood certification system that can earn points under the U.S. Green Building Council LEED program. If a dealer has customers who want to build LEED-worthy homes and buildings, and if that customer wants to get LEED points for the wood it uses, then FSC-certified lumber must be used and the lumberyard that supplies the wood must have a CoC certificate.

Bill Hayward, president of Hayward Lumber of Monterey, Calif., and chairman of the FSC's U.S. arm, (FSCUS) said the FSC movement had been expecting a fee change for a long time but officials wanted to wait until the system was big enough to support a fee hike without causing a drop in participation.

"It's just a few dollars to run a worldwide system," Hayward told ProSales in a Dec. 16 interview. "For those of us using it, we regard it as reasonable."

The FSC is of a scale and scope that it is expected to pay for itself," said Corey Brinkema, FSCUS president, who noted that in past years foundations had provided some of FSC's financial support. "Frankly, the original fee structure was ridiculously low," he said.

The issue of competing wood certifiers takes place at a time when the Green Building Council is expected to announce this spring whether wood certified by other standard-setters--particularly the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which is more popular with North America's timber industry, and the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, which is widespread in Europe--should qualify for LEED points. If that happens, it's likely that lumberyards will need CoC certificates for more than just FSC-certified products. A handful of yards already have secured SFI chain of custody certificates.

What concerns FSC advocates is their belief that the competing certification authorities, as well as companies that do the actual auditing and awarding of certificates, are claiming the other standards are as good as FSC's.

As a result, the FSC's General Assembly's, meeting in early November n Cape Town, South Africa., passed a non-binding motion directing FSC's administrators to prohibit certifying bodies "from falsely promoting less rigorous competing standards as equivalent to the forest management and chain of custody standards of FSC." It calls for a review of those certifying bodies' promotional media when those groups come up for accreditation, and predicts that one result of this initiative will be "fewer certificates being issued for competing schemes."

Unlike other motions for the General Assembly, which often are initiated by global, European or Third World organizations, this one was proposed by Hayward (though he didn't actually attend the general assembly). "We're simply not the same [as the others]," Hayward told ProSales.

Documentation supporting the motion said PEFC, SFI and other groups "have engaged in a 'push strategy,' heavily promoting the practice of dual and/or treble certification to forest management and chain-of-custody companies. Recognizing the challenge of direct competition with FSC, these weaker standard schemes seek to gain market share by coat-tailing on the acceleration in demand for FSC-certification."

The document adds that several FSC-accredited bodies (but presumably not Scientific Certification Systems, as its Robert Hrubes attended the meeting and seconded Hayward's motion) "are enabling the growth strategy of PEFC and SFI through the practice of direct dual and treble certification. ... FSC-US and FSC-Canada have collected abundant evidence that at least two certifying bodies are openly promoting FSC and the less rigorous competing schemes as co-equals in forest management standards rigor and impact on forest health and communities."

The motion directs FSC administrators to develop in-house research capacity to maintain current comparisons of forest management and chain-of-custody between FSC and leading competing schemes and provide all certifying bodies with annual updates of these comparisons.

Richard Donovan, chief of forestry of the Rainforest Alliance and the person who seconded the motion, said he expects that the effect of the motion will become apparent as FSC's parent body rewrites its contracts with the certifying bodies. "This is a shot across the bow, not to have language that is anti-[World Trade Organization], but to be sure the accuracy is there," he said.