The concept, brainstormed across the whiteboard, had been attempted before.
The difference this time around was everyone involved knew that what was being proposed would need to be recognised by industry nationally to succeed.
In 2018, Stacey Gardiner, Nick Roberts, and Nick Milham concentrated on obtaining funding and assembling the appropriate team to transform their brainstormed ideas into a project aimed at creating and testing a national certification for forest contracting businesses, as well as providing training to assist the leaders of these businesses.
“We were already working with key stakeholders and AFCA members to look at the benefits and opportunities across the supply chain for certifying forest contracting businesses,” explains Stacey Gardiner, formerly of Australian Forest Contractors Association.
“The emphasis for me was around developing and formalising business management practices, which we believed would contribute to further strengthening risk management and contribute to auditing consistency for businesses.”
The work that was being undertaken by the forest industry was already being noticed by Nick Milham, NSW Department of Primary Industries.
“DPI were seeking opportunities to improve environmental outcomes,” says Mr Milham.
“When Stacey, Nick (Roberts) and I were working on the concept we knew the success of the project relied heavily on it being led by industry and while that was my main focus, I knew it would need to encompass more than just the environment.”
As the NSW Government demonstrated its commitment to the future of the forest industry by financially backing the ForestFit project, it became essential for the industry to step up and assume leadership.
Representatives from forest growers, contracting businesses, processors, industry associations and existing industry certification bodies volunteered their time and expertise.
“The inaugural meeting of the industry reference group was December 2019,” says Dionne Olsen, ForestFit Project Manager.
“The time and commitment that everyone has contributed throughout the process has been significant, particularly considering the added challenges such as bushfires and COVID.”
“The outcomes that have been achieved are a result of full supply chain engagement for the entirety of the multi-year project.”
The time commitment was lengthy, though this did not seem to be a deterrent as Malcolm Hatcher, Midway explains:
“We were looking at the bigger picture when we expressed our interest in participating on the IRG.”
The IRG, or Industry Reference Group, were a cross-section of experts who met to consider what was to be included in the ForestFit Training program.
“As a grower and processor, we spend considerable time undertaking internal and external audits.”
“We could see the benefit of streamlining these processes for our business and our contractors.”
“The project’s core focus to deliver national outcomes was really important to us.”
Leveraging the connections and experience of member organisations internationally who have developed similar programs was a great starting place to understand what could work in Australia.
According to Michael Clancy, from GJ Groves, “Establishing a set of agreed national standards for the industry provides a clear path forward as we adapt to more complex and demanding business process changes, reporting and compliance requirements.”
The program emphasised the importance of knowledge diversity and adaptability for business owners, leaders, and up-and-coming leaders.
The IRG aimed to offer hands-on advice, encompassing both strategic and operational aspects, to enhance business performance, safety, and environmental results.
For months, IRG members collaborated extensively, examining multiple iterations of the training materials to guarantee their relevance to the industry’s needs and applicability for small to medium-sized enterprises.
“One of the reasons it was successful was the continuous opportunities to express your point of view, as part of group discussions and individually, on every aspect of the training and certification development,” explains Ian Reid, Austimber.
“The feedback was always valued, and it never felt like what was presented was cursory even though there were times that we ended up with a different result than what was proposed.”
“Which is to be expected when developing something new.”
In addition, Training Services NSW contributed their expertise in vocational training.
With the successful completion of a training pilot in June 2021, it was time for the IRG to turn their attention to developing the certification.
“Getting the criteria right for the standards so that it is credible without being onerous takes time, particularly when striving for consensus,” explains Simon Dorries, CEO of Responsible Wood.
Responsible Wood is Australia’s largest forest certification scheme and is one of six standard development organisations recognised by Standards Australia.
However, the process of creating these standards would have been considered onerous by some, particularly during the word-by-word walkthroughs of the criteria.
“It was a fair amount of time during the past couple of years,” says Chris Mangan, Mangan Logging and Haulage.
“Though it was worth it to ensure we have a set of national standards that reflect how serious we are about our work and businesses.”
Recognition of forest contracting businesses’ professionalism is what kept business owner Melissa Hayward, HR Forestry, contributing to the development of ForestFit. Mrs Hayward explains:
“ForestFit Certification is another way for us to demonstrate and reinforce to industry the amount of expertise, knowledge and experience that underpins forest contracting business operations and drives our decision making and continuous improvement.”
ForestFit Certification has been further strengthened by achieving Deemed to Comply status with Responsible Wood – the National Governing Body for PEFC in Australia.
Deemed to comply is where a ForestFit certified contractor may not need to be audited for Responsible Wood certification as you are deemed to comply with the Responsible Wood standard.
This process will be finalised with the JAS-ANZ endorsement of ForestFit.
According to Simon Dorries:
“We are very excited about the tangible and practical outcomes of ForestFit for recognising the good systems and professional practices of forest contracting businesses and to drive improvement,”
The multi-year work of the IRG will be celebrated with the national launch of ForestFit on 14 June 2022.