Certification by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) remains rare among forest management units (FMUs) in natural tropical forests, presenting a challenge for impact evaluation. We demonstrate application of the synthetic control method (SCM) to evaluate the impact of FSC certification on a single FMU in each of three tropical forest landscapes. Specifically, we estimate causal effects on tree cover change from the year of certification to 2012 using SCM and open-access, pan-tropical datasets. We demonstrate that it is possible to construct synthetic controls, or weighted combinations of non-certified FMUs, that followed the same path of tree cover change as the certified FMUs before certification. By using these synthetic controls to measure counterfactual tree cover change after certification, we find that certification reduced tree cover loss in the most recent year (2012) in all three landscapes. However, placebo tests show that in one case, this effect was not significant, and in another case, it followed several years in which certification had the opposite effect (increasing tree cover loss). We conclude that SCM has promise for identifying temporally varying impacts of small-N interventions on land use and land cover change.