I was surprised and interested to discover press announcment  from PEFC this morning.  What caught my eye immediately was the fact that the announcement is issued jointly by PEFC and FSC.  Both sites provide links to a one-page statement.  Both organization’s logos appear in the header, and the signatures of both executive directors appear at the bottom.  When is the last time that this has happened?  I don’t remember.

The subject of the statement is a new proposal being floated by ISO, the international standards organization, to create a generic and global standard for forest product Chain of Custody (CoC).  The proposal is in the very earliest stages of development and (to my knowledge) not yet received much attention.  Here is a link to the full proposal, and here is a link to a request from ANSI for comments.

On the surface, the ISO proposal seems to be a very good idea.  After all, why should Chain of Custody be brand-specific?  If you can trace one thing, you can trace anything – right?  Furthermore, lots of companies (including a large majority of MixedWood clients) implement 2 or more CoC systems together.  Managing separate certifications for a single system just adds cost and complexity.  A single, generic, and global approach could simplify all this and save millions of dollars in unnecessary costs.

What’s the problem?

So why are PEFC and FSC against this – so much so that they have collaborated in such a surprising way?  The joint statement lays out their argument this way:  a) the existing standards are widely recognized; b) they are “closely aligned” in a way that facilitates dual certification; and c) a “separated chain of custody” would not add value to the existing system.  I am certain that the arguments are sincere, but I find them rather myopic and self-serving.  FSC and PEFC are not famous for aligning anything and while it’s true that CoC certifications are often integrated this has been getting harder to do in recent years – not easier.

I’m not buying it.

I am sad to say that FSC and PEFC appear to be guilty of defending the status quo for the wrong reasons.  Both programs have been adding complexity and cost to their respective CoC systems in recent years, at a rate that is downright embarrassing.  They seem to have invested so much energy and effort into their respective clouds of complexity that they can no longer see clearly.  The result is added cost and added risk, without any added value.  This “creeping complexity”  is regarded by many stakeholders as the single biggest risk to the sustainability of these invaluable programs.

Chain of Custody should be simple.

It’s not, but it could (and should) be.  I think that the staff and key stakeholders at FSC and PEFC should acknowledge this and take another look at the ISO proposal as an interesting potential solution to this very real problem.

What do you think?