Understanding sustainable forest management certification in Slovakia: Forest Owners' perception of expectations, benefits and problems
Forest certification as a voluntary verification tool has been providing an independent assessment of sustainable forestry practices and thus confidence in sustainability benchmarks for over 20 years. Using either the international or national approaches and initiatives, two main forest certification systems, PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), have spread in a number of countries worldwide. The specifics of local conditions in the forestry sector have to be taken into account when implementing the certification context in a given country or a region. Apart from the natural conditions, institutional structure, or legislative framework, it is also the local and national stakeholders and their perception of this issue that provides the background for the implementation of the certification criteria. The main objective of this study is to examine the general understanding of the certification concept as an environmental, economic, and social tool, and to determine the incentives of forest owners in Slovakia for sustainable forest management (SFM) certification. In addition, the benefits and problems arising from participation in certification were identified and differences reflecting the ownership structure of forests, size of forest area, and participation in a particular certification programme were analysed. Results indicate that certified forest owners, unlike non-certified, demonstrated a high level of understanding of the SFM certification concept. Certified entities mainly consider forest certification as their commitment to environmental responsibility and a tool for improving external company image, promoting sustainable utilisation of forest resources, and improving forest management practices. The main benefits are linked to the possibility to demonstrate forest management practices, a better understanding of the forest management concept, and improvement of forest management practices. PEFC users perceive more benefits following from certification; the most important are those associated with non-economic values, while FSC-certified forest owners perceive mainly economic benefits connected to market penetration, increased sales volume, and potential price premiums. The key problems associated with certification relate to duties to ensure compliance with certification criteria by contractors and administrative difficulties. Respondents reported minimum price premiums for the sale of their certified timber. Additionally, the findings of the study pointed out that a nationally developed certification system can better recognise the roles and objectives of forest certification in the context of forest policy.