Quality assessment: a tool for operations development

Matti Maajärvi
Matti Maajärvi
Environmental Specialist, UPM Wood Sourcing and Forestry, North Europe
16 February 2017
Retention trees landscape

At UPM, we monitor the quality of forestry operations in various ways. Every year, we check the quality of the work at thousands of individual harvesting and forestry work sites.

Our employees measure quality and our contractors carry out self-monitoring. Feedback from our customers and stakeholders also plays a vital part in the development of our operations. For certified systems, quality assessment is conducted by professional auditors from the certifying companies.

In addition to internal and statutory assessment procedures, we procure forest and nature management assessment services externally. The information gained from all these sources provides us with an understanding of the level of quality of our operations and an opportunity for continuous improvement.

Quality assessment of FSC®-certified sites since 2013

The implementation of the FSC® certification in UPM forests in 2011 and the FSC group certification (FSC C 109750) for private forests in 2012 set new challenges in meeting quality standards. Our core functions remained unaffected: We continue to buy and harvest timber and produce forestry services.

However, the FSC certification imposed a set of quality requirements for procedures that was somewhat different from our customary practices at the time. The certification also brought about new kinds of needs to monitor these factors. All of which required extensive updates to guidelines and personnel training. At the same time, we developed the quality assessment process and criteria to meet the requirements of quality verification by FSC standards. In recent years, we have used FSC-focused forest and nature management quality assessments ordered from Tapio Silva Oy to measure the change implementation.

FSC-certified surface area has increased and the quality of operations has remained high

In autumn 2016, experts from Tapio Silva inspected a total of 100 regeneration sites where we had carried out wood harvesting and soil preparation. Sites included both UPM forests and the forests of UPM’s FSC group-certified customers. The goal was to find out how well the requirements of FSC and PEFC™ forest management standards and UPM environmental guidelines had been put into practice as well as to inspect the quality of soil preparation. The inspection consisted of both measurements being based on a network of observation plots and visual evaluation.

The results of this assessment show that the efforts in developing our operations after the implementation of the FSC have resulted in a an improvement in overall quality for both UPM and privately-owned FSC forests. The assessments carried out in 2016 did not reveal any serious deficiencies. Even though we still find areas for improvement, we are happy with the results and especially pleased with the direction of the development.

The time series made from the quality monitoring results from Tapio Silva over the last five years clearly indicate that the general level of our operations has improved over the years. At the same time, the UPM-managed FSC surface area has rapidly increased.

Today, 470,000 hectares of the forests owned by UPM in Finland have been FSC-certified and the FSC group of UPM’s privately-owned forests has grown to a total of 230,000 hectares since 2012. At the same time, we have succeeded in maintaining and improving the quality of operations. In view of these figures, we consider the results of quality monitoring as proof of success; for a multi-phased service chain such as forestry service, simultaneously increasing production, launching new services and assuring quality often proves to be a challenge.

Quality assessment confirms the promise of responsible operation for which the forest certification label stands

Quality assessment should always be conducted according to clearly specified criteria and standards. The assessment should be reliable and any detected deficiencies should be remedied. This particularly applies to the forest certification labels, which show the further processing companies and consumers that the forests are managed and used in a responsible way. The credibility of the label cannot be jeopardised under any circumstances.

Whether conducted by an external auditor or UPM personnel, quality assessment cannot be considered as a mere score on a scale or a black-and-white indicator of well or poorly managed operations. It is equally important to look beyond the results and find the underlying reasons for successes as well as for failures.

The forest certification standards set a target level that the operator must reach in order to have the right to use the certification label. Similarly, these standards and the assessment based on them should be considered as tools for improvement. It is an integral part of the process that when a deviation is detected during assessment, it is recorded as a non-conformance and corrective measures are specified. The effectiveness of those measures is assessed in the next audit and the end result is the improved quality of operations.

Individual cases of deviation from requirements are not necessarily indications of irresponsible operation. Instead, they reveal areas for development that a responsible operator will take under scrutiny and target actions to improve quality. For this purpose, audits and assessments are useful and necessary tools. However, the true benefits are gained only after the results are carefully analysed and further actions taken based on them. In addition to UPM personnel and the personnel of our entrepreneurs, quality assessment benefits UPM’s forest-owner customers, the companies that process UPM products further as well as consumers. And let’s not forget the benefits to the forest environment and national economy, or to the Finnish country brand as the home of high quality work!

Read also the statement issued by Tapio Silva Oy’s statement

 

 

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