THE ORGANISATION that gives a green tick to some of Australia's biggest timber and paper companies has voluntarily suspended most of its operations after a bruising stoush with environment groups over its approval of paper brand Reflex.
SmartWood, a division of Rainforest Alliance, gave up its ability to give out chain of custody certifications following an investigation into its audit of Reflex maker Australian Paper by international governing body the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
In addition to Australian Paper, Smartwood certified Tasmanian forestry group Gunns, plantation owners Hancock, tissue company Kimberly Clark and Norwegian paper group Norske Skog, which supplies most newsprint used in Australia.
The voluntary suspension was accepted by Accreditation Services International (ASI), which was auditing SmartWood on behalf of the FSC, on September 1, and remains in force until lifted by ASI.
''This is the first time in the development of FSC Australia that this has occurred,'' local FSC head Michael Spencer said.
He said the suspension showed the FSC system worked. ''Integrity is really paramount to the system,'' he said. ''Businesses particularly need to know the rules are applied consistently.''
If SmartWood is not reinstated then once certificates held by the Australian companies it audited expire, those clients will have to find a new auditor to remain in the FSC program.
ASI's investigation of SmartWood was triggered by environment groups unhappy it had continued to certify Australian Paper's use of timber logged from native forests by the Victorian government's logging company, VicForests. Green groups say all native forests in Australia are classified ''high conservation value'' and cannot be logged for use in FSC-certified products.
Australian Paper withdrew from the FSC system last month so it could continue to use VicForests logs, approved by rival accreditation system the Australian Forestry Standard.
My Environment director Sarah Rees, whose complaint helped spark ASI's probe, said the result showed that the FSC ''is capable of responding to environmental and community change''.
''This is a fair and transparent audit and has put FSC leagues ahead of other timber standards in Australia.''
Wilderness Society forest campaigner Luke Chamberlain said ''by hitching their wagon to the unsustainable practices of VicForests and Australian Paper, Rainforest Alliance have taken themselves out in what is an international blight on forestry practices in Australia''.
SmartWood spokeswoman Anita Neville said the organisation would invest in auditor training and reviewing its performance against Australian FSC standards with a view to ''getting back to work in this area as soon as possible in 2012''.