THE owner of Australia's best-known brand of paper, Reflex, has fought off environmental groups to gain a one-month extension to its international green certification.
But the price of the one-month extension granted to Reflex's manufacturer, Australian Paper, has been to open deep divisions within the certification system, with international governing body the Forest Stewardship Council attacking Australian Paper's auditor, SmartWood, over the decision.
While SmartWood, a division of Rainforest Alliance, says it needs more time to consider new information, the FSC says it ''doubts the appropriateness'' of a last-minute request from the auditor for clarification of key definitions in the standard.
At the centre of the dispute is Australian Paper's use of native forest harvested by state-owned logger VicForests, which is under sustained attack by environmental groups over its forestry practices.
Under FSC rules, products cannot be certified if they contain wood harvested in a way that poses a risk to areas of high-conservation value.
After years of complaint from environmental groups, an FSC panel in 2008 defined all Australian native forests as having high conservation value.
But interpretation of the policy is still controversial. Australian Paper was unable to reach consensus with environmental groups before the certificate expired on July 26.
''The one-month extension was made by SmartWood and, according to our understanding, was awarded largely based on the argument of not having enough clarity from FSC on some policy interpretation issues,'' Bonn-based FSC International executive director Andre de Freitas told BusinessDay.
''We have had discussions with SmartWood over the past couple of months and we very likely have different perspectives regarding this issue.''
FSC Australia chief executive Michael Spencer said the organisation was ''not really impressed with the performance of Rainforest Alliance/SmartWood in this''.
SmartWood spokeswoman Anita Neville said the auditor had extended Australian Paper's certification because it needed more time to consider late submissions from stakeholders, including the company.
''We feel we have acted appropriately and FSC International is entitled to their point of view,'' she said.
Australian Paper's other green certification, under the industry-based Australian Forestry Standard, is unrelated to the FSC process.
The company could not be reached for comment yesterday.