2. Materials and Methods
The study was carried out using a mail questionnaire survey. Forest owners and managers selected for the survey were identified from the (i) national register of forest owners and managers [71
], (ii) national PEFC database [72
], and (iii) international FSC database [73
] of sustainable forest management certificate holders. As the basis for determining the sample for the survey, the census of 8824 forest owners and managers registered in the national register was used. To determine the minimum sample size, we assumed a 5% margin of error and a 95% confidence interval; thus giving the total number of 369 forest owners to be contacted in the survey. Survey development and implementation were based on the modified methods recommended by [74
] including a pre-notification email and a first and second email to maximise the response rates. Data were collected from September to November 2017. In total, we contacted 400 forest owners for whom their email addresses were available, including all PEFC and FSC certified entities. A total of 273 responses were received, out of which 241 were correctly filled and suitable for analysis, thus, giving the adjusted return rate of 60.25% and margin of error of 6.23%.
The questionnaire consisted of a cover letter explaining the content and eight sections. The first section contained questions regarding the profile of forest owners in terms of their forest area and ownership type. Six forest area size categories were provided, ranging from less than 100 ha to more than 50,000 ha. All legal forms of forest land ownership were defined: state, community, municipal, private, and church forests. According to the certification scheme used, the forest owners were classified as PEFC, FSC, or double (both PEFC and FSC) certificate holders. The following content of the questionnaire was based on the findings of previous international research presented in the introduction chapter of this study on the role and the understanding, perception, and impact of SFM certification. The second section of the questionnaire contained questions aimed at the examination of all forest owners’ (certified and non-certified) level of understanding the forest certification concept both based on the objectives of PEFC and FSC certification as well as to determine the level of agreement with the basic certification statements. The researchers provided definitions of forest certification concepts to assure a consistent frame of reference for the respondents. The main certification statements referred to the main objectives and purposes of forest certification regarding the promotion of sustainable forest management and the use of sustainable resources, commitment to environmental responsibility, improvement of forest owners’ image, legality issues, market access, profit margin, improved communication, as well as the improvement of the internal efficiency of management. In the third section only the certified participants were asked to provide internal information on their involvement in the certification process, namely the expectations motivating forest owners to implement certification such as the improvement of forest management and demonstration of sustainable forestry practices, internal economic performance factors linked to the increase in sales and profit, market performance factors related to finding new customers, and other factors such as commitment to environmental issues and the improvement of the company image. Similar factors were defined to allow forest owners to identify the main benefits following from the adoption of certification requirements. In addition, questions linked to the difficulties regarding certification and related costs of implementation of certification standards were included. Particular questions were formulated on the basis of the main responsibilities for forest owners defined by certification standards. They were aimed to identify difficulties regarding different administrative issues linked to documentation, internal and external audits, ensuring compliance with certification criteria by contractors, implementation of preventive and corrective measures, training and personnel requirements, communication, and costs. Cost-related questions aimed to identify the perception of cost linked to the certification system implementation and maintenance, cost of external and internal audits, and cost induced by changes in forest management practices. The final section of the questionnaire was oriented to the issue of the price premium received by forest owners for selling their certified wood.
A five-point Likert scale was used to measure the level of understanding of the certification concepts and level of agreement with principal certification statements, where 1 corresponded to ‘strongly disagree’ or ‘do not understand not at all’, the mid-point 3 was ‘neither disagree nor agree’ or ‘somewhat understand’ (a neutral mid-point), and 5 was ‘strongly agree’ or ‘completely understand’. The same approach was used to evaluate the level of problem severity the forest owners face. The reliability of factors regarding the agreement of forest owners with the main objectives and purposes of forest certification, expectations that motivated them to enter the certification process, as well as related benefits and difficulties, was tested by using Cronbach’s alpha coefficient. A reliability coefficient of 0.7 and above was considered and acceptable for the consistency level [75
Data were analysed using the statistical analysis software SPSS. The non-parametric Mann–Whitney U test was used to determine the differences in the distribution of categorical variables. In particular, differences were identified between the certified and non-certified forest owners as well as between the different ownership categories and holders of certificates of different certification schemes. For these purposes, all ownership categories were grouped into two main categories: state and non-state forest owners. In order to determine the influence of the certification scheme on the responses, the certified forest owners were divided into two groups (PEFC and FSC). Additionally, we used a chi-square test to identify all the group distributions and to highlight differences between respondents of different forest areas. To eliminate the number of forest area size categories and thus eliminate the occurrence of empty cells in the analysis, three main categories were created: small (up to 500 ha), medium (501–10,000 ha), and large (more than 10,000 ha).
The survey compares the attitudes towards forest certification of certified and non-certified forest owners in Slovakia. A share of certified forest area (63.4%) reflects the present situation in Slovakia where all state companies managing more than 53% of forest land have implemented some of the existing certification systems. In total, 69% of respondents were using one of the two certification systems, namely FSC and PEFC. The share of PEFC certificate holders was 92% and FSC, 4%. Additionally, 4% of responding companies were double certified (Figure 1
Data were collected among forest owners of all types of ownership. Respondents were mostly represented by the community type of ownership (38%), followed by the state forests (24%), municipal forests, and different private forest owners (18% each) (Figure 2
). For the purposes of further analysis, ownership types were grouped into two main categories: state (24%) and non-state forest ownership (76%).
The area of managed forests was used as an indicator of company size. Figure 3
shows that small owners (up to 500 ha) represent 35% of the respondents, followed by medium-size (501–10,000 ha) owners (55%). Only 10% of respondents represented large owners managing more than 10,000 ha of forests.
All group distributions were tested for differences between the ownership, forest area, and certification scheme. Using the chi-square test, there were significant differences identified between the individual types of ownership (χ2 = 33.731, p = 0.000) and company size (χ2 = 99.001, p = 0.000), however, no significant differences were seen among users of individual certification schemes.
shows the forest owners’ level of understanding of the certification concepts and agreement with basic certification statements. The reliability of examined factors using Cronbach’s alpha coefficient was 0.867. With the highest mean score of 4.11, the respondents demonstrated an understanding of the concept of sustainable forest management; however, the differences between the certified (4.35) and non-certified owners (3.57) were significant. This was followed by the understanding of PEFC objectives (3.76) and FCS objectives (3.12). Naturally, certified owners understand objectives of both certification schemes significantly better than non-certified ones.
Respondents strongly believe that certification represents a commitment to environmental responsibility (4.03) and, at the same time, it improves the external company image (4.02). These issues were closely followed by sustainability-related issues, namely, the promotion of sustainable utilisation of forest resources (3.90) and the improvement of forest management practices (3.61). Certification is also seen as a tool to improve market access (3.27).
Respondents expressed the lowest level of agreement with the statements regarding the economic issues and those related to the improvement of the internal efficiency that forest certification may bring to companies. These include increasing profit margins (2.87) and the improvement of management efficiency (3.01).
Using the Mann–Whitney U test, a significant difference in levels of agreement with certification statements between the certified and non-certified companies was found at a 0.05 level of significance. The results show that there are significant differences between certified and non-certified companies in all five top-ranked statements described above. The statements dealing with environmental responsibility, company image, and forest resource management were identified by certified respondents as the most suitable to explain the role of forest certification. The certified status of forest owners is not important when considering the role of certification as a tool that can increase profit margins (U = 5595.5, p = 0.191), improve management efficiency (U = 5427.5, p = 0.089), prevent illegal logging (U = 5622.0, p = 0.215), or improve communication with customers (U = 5779.5, p = 0.353).
To explore what the main expectations were that motivated certified companies to obtain forest certification, owners were provided several options covering a range of the most important benefits and problems the certification may bring. The reliability of examined factors using Cronbach’s alpha coefficient was 0.839. The most important motive was the improvement of external company image (mean score 4.30). Other expectations motivating owners to be certified were linked to the demonstration of sustainable forest management practices (4.23), commitment to environmental issues (4.14), improvement of forest management (3.57), and the search to obtain new customers (3.03). Other issues, such ambitions to increase profit margins (2.73) or to increase sales volume (2.68) were considered as the least motivating factors (Table 2
). It follows that forest certification is considered by certified forest owners as a tool that can improve their external image and help to demonstrate their management practices through their environmental commitments. A non-parametric test (Mann–Whitney U test) was used to prove the significant difference in the levels of agreement with certification motives between the certification schemes and ownership types at a 0.05 level of significance. The test confirmed that the difference between forest owners certified by different certification schemes was significant only for one factor focused on the demonstration of sustainable forest management practices (U = 162.0, p
= 0.001), where the PEFC certificate holders are more convinced than FSC ones that forest certification can be a suitable tool to promote their sustainable management practices.
Similarly, using the chi-square test, there was a significant difference identified between the forest owners of different company sizes where almost 85% of medium-sized forest owners and 65% of large owners consider the demonstration of sustainable forest management practices (χ2 = 29.525, p = 0.000) as very significant. On the other side, small owners had mostly indifferent answers. Statistically significant differences in expectations between the state and non-state forest sector can be found in three cases (the state owners being the ones with more recognised motivation for certification): seeking to increase sales volume (U = 2516.5, p = 0.037) and obtain new customers (U = 2451.5, p = 0.021), as well as the improvement of the external company image (U = 2362.0, p = 0.004).
The motivation for the introduction of certification is directly linked to the benefits it brings. Respondents consider the possibility to demonstrate forest management practices (3.61) and the better understanding of forest management concept (3.50) to be the most important benefits.
Considering the effect of the certification scheme, the Mann–Whitney U test proved the significant differences in levels of agreement with the main benefits of certification for certified entities (Table 3
). The differences were recorded in terms of improvement of forest management practices (U = 310.0, p
= 0.049), increase of sales volume (U = 299.0, p
= 0.040), management efficiency and record keeping (U = 298.5, p
= 0.039), as well as the understanding of forest management concepts (U = 256.5, p
= 0.016), and the possibility of demonstrating forest management practices (U = 245.0, p
= 0.011). Considering these issues, PEFC-certified companies are more identified with the aforementioned benefits of forest certification than the FSC certified companies.
There were also significant differences in benefits identified between the different types of ownership. Namely, state forest owners rather than non-state benefit from the penetration of new markets (U = 2422.5, p = 0.017) and improvement of communication with customers (U = 2500.5, p = 0.033). Differences between the main benefits of certification in terms of the forest area were identified in the case of two different factors focused on the penetration of new markets (χ2 = 18.313, p = 0.019) and the possibility to demonstrate forest management practices (χ2 = 17.722, p = 0.023). Small and medium-size forest owners consider these benefits less significant, while large forest owners consider them as important issues.
In addition to the survey of certification stimulus and expected benefits, we also focused on the perceived level of problems related to forest certification. Several main problematic areas were defined for respondents (Table 4
). Generally, the perceived level of problems related to certification issues is considered to be not very problematic (the score of answers ranges from 1.85 to 2.60) in comparison to perceived expectations (2.68–4.30) and benefits (2.54–3.61).
Compliance with the certification criteria by contractors (mean score 2.60) is considered to be the most important difficulty for the forest owners, followed by a range of problems related to the administrative burden associated with the performance of internal audits (2.51) and with the implementation of documentation (2.50). Other certification related issues, for example, external audit, personnel and training, or communication with the group entity seems to be perceived as less problematic. It is noteworthy that there were no differences identified in terms of the certification scheme and ownership type except perceiving a higher level of problems related to the requirements for personnel and training by non-state owners (U = 2514.0, p = 0.036) and small owners (χ2 = 16.869, p = 0.032).
Even if the costs were not perceived as the most important problem related to certification (rated 2.45), we have further explored how certified entities perceive different types of certification costs (Table 5
). Costs are mainly connected to certification system implementation and maintenance (2.95) and external audits (2.91), followed by costs related to changes in forest management practices (2.81) and internal audits (2.75). FSC-certified companies consider the costs of external audits and certificate issuance significantly higher that PEFC-certified companies (U = 340.0, p
= 0.048). There were no differences recorded between different ownership types or the size of the forest area.
An increase in the total costs related to certification should be outweighed by the green premium obtained from the sale of certified wood. In particular, the respondents were asked about the price premium they receive for the certified wood they sell. Almost 74% of respondents replied that they may obtain an extra price premium of 1–5%, and 9% of respondents mentioned a price premium of 6–10% for their certified wood compared to non-certified wood. On the other hand, 12.7% of forest owners do not receive any price premium. (Figure 4
Considering the significant differences in the understanding of the concept of sustainable forest management between the certified and non-certified forest owners, it should be noted that the certified owners are certainly disposed to a better knowledge of such concept—in accordance with the perception of certification as a tool for the promotion of SFM [5
]. In the case of PEFC-certified forest owners, the understanding of PEFC objectives was significantly higher compared to FSC certificate holders and the FSC scheme. This might be because of the national approach by PEFC that results in improved communication and proximity to forest owners, as well as due to the system of compulsory regular training provided for certified owners by the Slovak PEFC governing body [76
]. This is also in line with [10
], according to which the certification shall serve as a tool supporting the development and use of forest management procedures accepted generally by all participating stakeholders.
The research shows that the certified owners, by contrast with the non-certified ones, are strongly convinced that certification is a way in which to improve their external image which is built upon their commitments to environmental responsibility. Thus, the certified owners in particular understand certification as a tool for presenting their improved forest management practices and, consequently, developing their environmental performance [24
]. On the other hand, neither the certified nor non-certified forest owners consider the economic role of certification to be an important one. Both groups of forest owners assign substantially lower ratings to statements connected to their economic performance, unlike views of Nakamura et al. [25
], Rickenbach and Overdevest [16
], Takahashi [26
], and Van Kooten et al. [21
]. These results approve the views of certification as a soft policy instrument [12
To discuss the differences between the PEFC certified forest owners and FSC certified ones, the following comments shall be kept in mind. Reflecting the expectations that motivated certified companies to obtain forest certification, the PEFC certified forest owners rated all but one expectation at the higher level than the FSC certified ones (the one exception being the expectation to increase profit margin). This may relate to the “FSC only policy” of large companies in CoC who seek to control their wood supply chains. Moreover, PEFC-certified owners more significantly expected forest certification to be a suitable tool to promote their sustainable management practices.
Certified forest owners consider the possibility to demonstrate forest management practices as the main benefit following from certification. In general, the PEFC certified forest owners perceived the benefits of certification much better than the FSC certified ones, except for the economic benefits connected to market penetration, increased sales volume, and potential price premium. It is important to note that statistical differences were found in the “non-economic” cases. On the other hand, differences between answers that focused on benefits with economic character were not statistically significant.
Ensuring compliance of contractors with certification requirements and administrative burden associated with the performance of internal audits and the implementation of documentation were identified as the main problems by the respondents. Similar problems connected with certification were mentioned by Giessen et al. [77
] and Paluš et al. [34
]. By examining the perceived level of problems related to certification issues, it was revealed that FSC-certified forest owners perceived almost all problems more seriously than PEFC certified ones who only consider the compliance with certification criteria by contractors as a more problematic issue. However, no significant differences between the two schemes were identified.
Furthermore, the ownership and forest sizes of owners are also significant factors influencing the perception of certification expectations, benefits, and problems. Higher expectations were identified by the state forest owners, especially those related to obtaining new customers and increasing sales volume. These expectations may follow from their rather large-scale timber trade business activities [51
]. The same situation arises when the main certification benefits, especially those related to the new market penetration of the state forest sector. As the state forest sector operates through rather large forest enterprises with their area well over 10,000 ha [65
], these results are further confirmed by the fact that large forest owners consider benefits connected to the new market penetration as significantly important issues, unlike small and medium-size ones.
On the other hand, there are no statistically significant differences in the perception of the main problems related to certification between the state and non-state forest sectors, except for personnel capacities. In this case, the problems of non-state owners are significantly higher in comparison with the state ones—such problems being the result of the general lack of skilled staff and unwillingness of small forest owners to cooperate [70
]. Regardless of the ownership type, the problematic compliance with the certification criteria by contractors shall be perceived as a typical problem in the case of Slovak forestry where all forest owners are highly dependent upon the services provided by contractors [67
]. However, it shall be noted that, according to PEFC Slovakia [79
], it is the forest owner who is responsible for ensuring such compliance.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that all perceived expectations and benefits scored at a higher average value on a five-point scale compared to the perceived problems. This implies that the positive aspects of certification are generally more valued than its shortcomings. Similar findings can be found, for example, in Paluš et al. [34
Although several authors recognize costs of certification as one of the obstacles to certification implementation [11
], costs were not perceived as an important issue by respondents in this research, regardless of their size or ownership type. Finally, considering the price premium obtained from the sale of certified wood that outweighs the possible certification costs, the most frequently identified premium of 1–5% corresponds to an adequate level of price premium in the certified supply chain identified by, for example, Owari and Sawanobori [44
] and Paluš et al. [34
Most of the findings indicate that once the national certification system represented by PEFC endorsed SFCS is considered, there is a better awareness and understanding of the objectives, concept, and benefits following from the forest certification. A national system developed under the “bottom-up” principle, respecting national legislation and traditions, reflecting local specifics and conditions, and thus giving local stakeholders possibilities to shape the system requirements, is more effective in the effort to increase the value of certification as a tool promoting wider debates and dialogs and, subsequently, in promoting sustainable forestry practices among forest owners. A better understanding of the entire potential of forest certification context facilitates forest owners and managers to implement certification requirements and reinforces the recognition of the role of certification as a tool supporting forestry policy objectives.
This research highlighted differences in the perception of the role and objectives of two certification systems that were developed and implemented in a specific country under different regimes. The findings of this study can serve as a basis for assessing similar relationships in other countries where certification schemes are implemented on the same principles.