Step 1: Contact a certification body
The first thing you have to do to get certified is to contact one or more FSC accredited certification bodies in your area. You can find a list of FSC accredited certification bodies on the ASI website.
The certification body will give you a first estimate of cost and time needed for certification, and they will provide you with information about the requirements of certification. You will need to sign an agreement with the certification body you decide to work with.
Step 2: Management Plan
You may need to create or make changes to your management plan in order to comply with FSC standards. Most forest operations already have management plans that include the appropriate level of harvest to ensure that harvest can occur on a regular basis without loss in yield.
Some management plans also have an environmental impact management component (e.g. to protect waterways or minimize the run-off from forest roads). In any case, your management plan must cover all of the requirements described in the FSC standard.
Step 3: Optional pre-assessment
If necessary, the certification body can do a pre-assessment where they will observe your forest management activities and speak with stakeholders such as your employees, the local population, and others who may be interested in your forest management practices.
The result of the pre-assessment is a report that discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the activities in your forest. These will need to be addressed before your certification assessment. In general, it can take a year to complete the compliance activities needed to get certified.
If you feel ready for a full evaluation (e.g. you feel that you are in compliance with the applicable FSC standard) then you can skip the pre-assessment. This will reduce auditing costs but could pose a risk that the certification assessment will be more difficult.
Step 4: Certification Assessment
The certification assessment is carried out to determine whether the forest is managed according to FSC requirements. This ‘main assessment’ can take a few days to complete and will form the basis of the auditor’s recommendation to certify your forest management unit or not.
After the evaluation, the auditor submits the final report to their certification body, who make the final decision. The auditor will need to see all records and documents that are required for certification, so it is vital that you ensure these are available during the audit.
Step 5: Certification
If the certification body approves, an FSC Forest Management (FM) certificate is issued. If chain of custody (CoC) has also been audited, an FSC Forest Management and Chain of Custody (FM/CoC) certificate is issued. The certificate is valid for five years as long as compliance with the FSC forest management standard (FSC-STD-20-001) is maintained.
If the certification body does not approve, they will suggest the activities and changes that are needed to secure FSC certification in the future.
Step 6: Annual Audit
Most operations will be subjected to an annual audit. At this time the certification body will review documents and records related to the certificate. For SLIMFs, the first annual audit will include an FMU site-level visit. However, if there are no corrective action requests that require site visits, no complaints requiring evaluation, and no significant forest activities in the past 12 months, the remaining audits may not require site visits and a desk audit is all that is needed. This is also true for groups or sub-groups of SLIMFs that have less than 100 members (taking into account the rate of change of group members, any changes in the group management structure, and the type and variety of forest activities).
Step 7: Re-certification
FSC certificates are valid for 5 years. At the end of the five-year period, if you decide to get re-certified, you will have to undergo the same procedures as for the main evaluation (starting at step 4).