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Abstract

Under the “polluter pays principle” of traditional environmental policy, society imposes on polluting producers a tax equal to marginal environmental damage. This is passed on as a higher consumer price for environmentally unfriendly products. By contrast, certification is seen as a way of ensuring that what people buy is what they want, and passing a higher consumer willingness to pay for environmentally friendly products to the producer. But requirements for and structure of certification in practice may not deliver the desired environmental improvements. At the same time producers see certification variously, as a means of improving public image, avoiding bad publicity, or accessing wider markets. These advantages, too, are little related to actual environmental impact. For some, certification merely authenticates existing practice, so verifiability rather than sustainability is transacted. The premium that consumers are willing to pay, translated to forest level, far exceeds any extra payment received or expected by timber growers. The idea that it represents a transaction connecting consumers with the cost and means of creating sustainable forest ecosystems is thus far-fetched. Instead, the premium should be regarded as a vote for valuing long-term environmental and social impacts of forestry explicitly, as by traditional cost–benefit analysis.

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