From 12 to 81: the story of PEFC membership & governance

PEFC is much more than just the secretariat in Geneva. We are an alliance of national forest certification systems, NGOs, labour unions, businesses, trade associations, forest owner organizations and committed individuals. Together, we work towards our vision of a world that values the contribution of sustainable forests to our planet and our lives.

Our members are a vital part of the PEFC alliance. From the 12 founding members, to the current 81 members (51 national and 30 international stakeholder members), representing several hundred national stakeholder groups, we have grown and become global. But how have we got to this point – and how has it changed the very nature of PEFC?

Our founding members: forest owners

In 1999, 12 organizations came together to create PEFC. These organizations represented forest owners in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. 

Soon joined by organizations from other European countries, and then globally, these are our national members (also known as National Governing Bodies). They are independent, national organizations responsible for developing and running the national forest certification system within their country. 

One of the distinct characteristics of our national members is that they have the support of their country’s forest owners. Forest owners and managers are important stakeholders as they are responsible for implementing forest management requirements and pursuing certification. It is therefore essential that they are supportive of, and involved in, the national process. This is why we require that our national members obtain their support. 

National members manage “everything PEFC” within their respective country, as well as providing support to the PEFC-certified companies and forest owners. They can range in size from one person to a large team, but all of them are dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management within their country and globally. Meet our national members.

The early years: engaging the forest sector

It was soon clear that other organizations supporting the objectives of PEFC wanted to be involved, leading to the creation of extraordinary members. With this, we moved beyond our initial focus on forest owners, offering stakeholders from the entire forest sector the opportunity to become directly involved with PEFC. 

Organizations admitted into membership at this stage were the Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF), European Confederation of Woodworking Industries (CEI-Bois), European Landowners’ Organisation (ELO), European Timber Trade Association (FEBO) and Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI).

Achieving maturity: implementing multi-stakeholder governance

In 2008, it was time for a change. We appointed expert consultants to help undertake a comprehensive governance review with stakeholders worldwide. As a result, and in order to encourage a broader range of stakeholders to participate in the PEFC governance process, we introduced the international stakeholder member category. This enabled us to engage international actors for whom it is difficult to get involved at local and national level. 

The birth of international stakeholder membership represented a fundamental change in how PEFC was governed. But not only that: it changed the very nature of PEFC. 

Ten years on, there are 30 international stakeholder members from around the world - an integral part of the PEFC alliance. They include organizations, associations and international companies whose principles and objectives are in line with our own. These members perform a vital role in supporting the work we do. Meet our international stakeholder members.

PEFC today: a joint effort

Accepting international stakeholders into PEFC membership fundamentally changed our own understanding of ourselves. PEFC was no longer only about forest owners delivering a service to society. We became a joint effort of everyone interested in promoting sustainable forest management. 

Today, stakeholders of all realms of life not only participate in the development of our standards, but also in PEFC as a global association. They share their knowledge and offer a helping hand in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our organization, and actively contribute to the governance of PEFC.


Small-forest owners at the heart of PEFC

As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we have spoken a lot about the importance of small-forest owners. They are the reason we were created. But how do we ensure that they can access certification?

The answer is group certification. Group certification enables small-forest landowners to group together and organize themselves, pool their resources and work as a team to achieve certification. This makes PEFC certification affordable and practical for smallholders.

Around one million small-forest owners have achieved PEFC certification through group certification, and the number continues to grow. This is a testimony to the fact that forest certification is possible for small landholders, and that it is a powerful and cost-effective way of promoting forest conservation and sustainable management.

See how group certification works….

But developing the group certification mechanism is just the starting point

Through our Collaboration Fund and other PEFC initiatives, we continue to invest in projects and activities that support smallholder certification through engagement, innovation and capacity building. From South Africa and Portugal, to New Zealand and Nepal, our projects cross the globe. See all our smallholder projects…

We are also developing tools, such as certification for Trees outside Forests. This enables smallholders growing trees outside of forests, such as on agricultural land or within settlements, to achieve certification and take advantage of the benefits it brings.

It is vital that smallholders are able to gain PEFC certification for their sustainable practices. However, with 25% of forests owned by families and communities, it is important for the world too. In fact, in many of the countries striving to establish or expand certified forest area, small landholdings represent a significant share of the forest resource.

Smallholders at our heart, forever

In the 20 years since we were created, we have continually strengthened our approach. An approach that has been adopted by increasing numbers of stakeholders, making PEFC today the world's largest forest certification system. 

But while we continue to grow, we have never forgotten our roots. We are, and will always be, the certification system of choice for small forest owners.

20 years of caring

From July to June, there will be many opportunities to get involved in our celebrations. 

Later this year, we will launch our #myPEFCmoment campaign, and everybody can take part. Just take a picture of the PEFC label on a product, share it online with the hashtag #myPEFCmoment and win fantastic prizes!

The hashtag #20yearsofcaring provides a collection of activities of PEFC members and stakeholders around the world.


PEFC – A manifestation of a passion for forests

While there is a definite day on which PEFC was founded – the 30th June 1999 – the idea that led to PEFC evolved during a range of meetings and discussions that lasted over a year. PEFC was neither the only, nor the most significant, outcome of these discussions.

But what could be more significant than PEFC, an organization that evolved to become the world’s leading forest certification system?

Passion, or more concretely, the understanding of small- and family forest owners that they all share the same passion for forests, for responsible forest management. That they all benefit from collaboration and cooperation, from sharing best practices and mutually supporting each other. And that they needed to start speaking with one voice to get themselves heard – and PEFC became part of this voice. 

Speaking with one voice was urgently needed at that time. In the 1990s, decision makers in politics, international and intergovernmental organizations, engaged in a range of processes aimed at defining sustainable forest management, including the Forest Europe  process, the 1992 Rio Forest Principles, the Montreal Process, the Lepaterique Process or the ITTO process. 

These processes were all – and some are still – important, and shaped our common understanding of sustainable forest management. Yet they all shared one significant challenge: while the multitude of processes is a recognition that forests are highly diverse, these processes didn’t recognize that forest management, local traditions, cultural and spiritual expectations, average property sizes and support structures are highly diverse as well. 

This challenge was amplified by the inability of small-and family forest owners to speak with one voice, to raise awareness of their specific circumstances within these high level processes. 

The meetings and discussions that led to the foundation of PEFC took place against this backdrop. Unsurprisingly, the recognition that forest management is diverse, and that this diversity means one size does not fit all when it comes to forest certification, is core to PEFC. 

This is why we do not set one international standard that all forest owners must follow in order to achieve certification. Instead, we work through national forest certification systems, enabling countries to tailor their sustainable forest management requirements to their specific forest ecosystems, the legal and administrative framework, the socio-cultural context and other relevant factors – but more about this on a later date.

Our roots in small-and family forestry can be found in another concrete outcome of this newfound understanding of the shared passion for forests in the late 1990s: the launch of the International Family Forestry Alliance (IFFA). IFFA became another part of the voice of small- and family forest owners, with the specific objective “to be recognized as an important stakeholder and be consulted by the United Nations and other international processes affecting sustainable forest management”. 

The IFFA was launched on 1 July 2002 – three years after PEFC, in the PEFC offices in Luxembourg. IFFA and PEFC – two organisation grown out of small and family forest owners’ passion for forest.



PEFC turns 20!

2019 is a very special year for the PEFC family as together we celebrate our 20th anniversary.

Before the birth of PEFC, forest certification was designed primarily for large-scale forest owners, managing huge areas of land and able to shoulder the burden of certification. But this meant the millions of small-, family and community forest owners were shut out, unable to afford a certification that was not created for them.

                                                      Founding of PEFC (1).jpg

It was back in 1999 when European small-forest owners came together to create an international forest certification system that had their needs at heart. On 30 June 1999, PEFC was created!

“Having no certification system suitable for smallholders was a serious issue back in the 90s,” said Ben Gunneberg, the CEO of PEFC International since the very beginning. “Not only for the many small-forest owners that could not benefit from certification, but also for the world.”

“Families and communities own 25% of the world’s forests, so it’s vital for all of us that these forests are managed sustainably. By providing these forest owners with the opportunity to gain certification, PEFC led a great leap forward for sustainable forest management, and we continue to work hard to ensure PEFC forest certification continues to be accessible and relevant to forest owners worldwide.”

A year of celebrations

Over the next 18 months, we will be celebrating our achievements from 20 years of caring for forests globally and locally. We have uncovered all our old photos to give you a glimpse of what PEFC looked like at the beginning and how we have changed over time.

Through a series of chapters, we will tell the PEFC story, from 1999 to 2019, highlighting some of the key events and challenges that have shaped our organization. You’ll also get the chance to hear from voices of the past and present, and see a few of our old communications. 

In April, get your cameras and phones ready for the third instalment of our international photo contest, and if you see the PEFC label, make sure you take a picture of it and share it online with the hashtag #myPEFCmoment.

In November, the whole PEFC alliance heads to Würzburg, Germany, where one of our very first meetings took place, for the 2019 PEFC Forest Certification Week. Under the theme ‘Certification and Sustainability: from Niche to Mainstream’ our Stakeholder Dialogue will be looking to the future to see where the next 20 years will take us.

Get involved!

There will be many opportunities for everyone to get involved in our anniversary celebrations! Online, make sure you follow the hashtag #20yearsofcaring to see what we and all our members around the world are doing. You can also sign up to our newsletter for all the latest news and activities.

If you are a PEFC-certified company then you can get involved in our celebrations by using our special 20-year logo! It’s already available for you to use on the Label Generator (and if you don’t yet have access, contact the national PEFC member in your country). If you’re not certified, but would like to use the 20-year logo, let us know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



PEFC’s story, the early years

The creation of PEFC in June 1999 was a turning point for small-forest owners in Europe. It marked the start of an international forest certification system that put their needs first, enabling them to achieve certification and access demanding markets. But it wasn’t long before forest owners outside Europe could also benefit… 

As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, over the next few months we’re going to be taking a look at our history. Today it is our early years.

After the establishment of PEFC in June 1999, we needed an office and to decide which country we would be based in. Luxembourg was chosen, and within a year, the PEFC Secretariat office was up and running and the small team had got to work. In order to communicate to the PEFC members and the wider forestry sector, the first PEFC newsletter was released in March 2000 – take a look! And not to forget, back then we were called the Pan European Forest Certification (PEFC) Council.

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An important milestone came in May 2000 as Finland, Sweden and Norway became the very first countries to achieve PEFC endorsement of their national forest certification systems. This meant forest owners, large and small, could gain PEFC certification of their sustainable forest management practices. Combined, 18 million hectares of forest area were PEFC certified (and now we’re at over 300 million!).



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              PEFC General Assembly, Luxembourg, 2000

Following in the footsteps of forest management was PEFC Chain of Custody certification, the vital link between the forest and consumer. The development of the rules for the verification of chain of custody of wood was launched in Segovia, Spain, in March 1999. The PEFC General Assembly unanimously adopted the rules in February 2000, laying the way for PEFC-certified products on the marketplace.

In 2001, we incorporated the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions into our guidelines on standard setting. These guidelines set the requirements for how countries must develop their national forest management standard. This change put labour rights into the heart of our standards, something that continues to be important to us now and in future. Take a look at our latest Sustainable Forest Management benchmark standard, in which we have further expanded the social requirements. 

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A significant development came early in 2002, as we launched our first online interactive database. Through a new website, customers now had easy access to information about the origins of timber carrying the PEFC logo. Interested in seeing how things have changed compared to our current Find Certified database? We’ve found the original instructions from 2002!

It was only two years since our launch, but by 2001, we already had a member outside Europe: Canada. This was followed swiftly by Australia, Brazil, Chile and Malaysia, all joining the alliance in 2002. Clearly, we were no longer European, so we needed to change our name. In 2003, we became the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. 

Stay tuned to learn about more milestones in PEFC’s history!