What is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certification?

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Many of us are probably familiar with the FSC logo, noticing it on business cards, books and bank statements, and making the assumption its stamp ensures a degree of environmental responsibility.

FSC recycled paper label
An example of an FSC label

Leading environmental organizations such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund have lent the certification their support.

So what is it all about?

Real alternatives for forest management were the driving factor behind the creation of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in 1993.

According to their website, the FSC is an

“international certification and labelling system that guarantees that the forest products you purchase come from responsibly managed forests and verified recycled sources”.

Today the FSC’s work revolves around three areas: Forest Management Standards Development, Resources and Training, and Market Development.

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FSC Standards

In Canada, the forest management standards are developed regionally by four “Chambers” or groups that represent different interests. The four interests represented are Aboriginal Peoples, Economic, Environmental and Social. A balance is sought between them by granting equal power in the voting process that ultimately determines the standards set.

The standards vary by region, however a set of ten principles and criteria guide all forest management practices. These practices take into account social and environmental impact, laws (i.e. legal right to the land etc.), labour rights, Aboriginal People’s rights, sustainability in planning, ongoing monitoring and assessment among others.


FSC Principles

The FSC’s 10 principles are: 

Principle 1: The Organisation shall comply with all applicable laws, regulations and nationally ratified international treaties, conventions, and agreements.

Principle 2: The Organisation shall maintain or enhance the social and economic wellbeing of workers.

Principle 3: The Organisation shall identify and uphold Indigenous Peoples’ legal and customary rights of ownership, use and management of land, territories and resources affected by management activities.

Principle 4: The Organisation shall contribute to maintaining or enhancing the social and economic wellbeing of local communities.

Principle 5: The Organisation shall efficiently manage the range of multiple products and services of the Management Unit to maintain or enhance long term economic viability and the range of environmental and social benefits.

Principle 6: The Organisation shall maintain, conserve and/or restore ecosystem services and environmental values of the Management Unit, and shall avoid, repair, or mitigate negative environmental impacts.

Principle 7: The Organisation shall have a management plan consistent with its policies and objectives and proportionate to scale, intensity and risks of its management activities. The management plan shall be implemented and kept up to date based on monitoring information to promote adaptive management. The associated planning and procedural documentation shall be sufficient to guide staff, inform affected stakeholders and interested stakeholders and to justify management decisions.

Principle 8: The Organisation shall demonstrate that, progress towards achieving the management objectives, the impacts of management activities and the condition of the Management Unit, are monitored and evaluated proportionate to the scale, intensity, and risk of management activities, to implement adaptive management.

Principle 9: The Organisation shall maintain and/or enhance the High Conservation Values in the Management Unit through applying the precautionary approach.

Principle 10: Management activities conducted by or for The Organisation for the Management Unit shall be selected and implemented consistent with The Organisation’s economic, environmental, and social policies and objectives and in compliance with the Principles and Criteria collectively.

There are two parts to the certification process that must be met in order for certification to be granted.

Firstly, the forest in question must be given a forest management certificate which is awarded based on its adherence to the ten principles and criteria as well as any regionally specific standards.

Secondly, there is a chain of custody certificate which is granted based on specific standards set for steps along the supply chain, beginning with the raw materials and ending with the finished product. Regulation of standards is done by independent and third-party auditors.


Criticism of the FSC

While the program has received much praise it also has endured its fair share of criticism. The FSC has increasingly been accused of greenwashing as its standards are said to be slipping.

The FSC’s decision in 2008 to certify plantations has been a major reason for the criticism. Plantations have been known for their monoculture methods that eliminate biodiversity, among other social and labour based issues.

Furthermore, while the Chambers structure makes sense in a country like Canada, critics have argued not all interests will always have the same capacity to represent themselves in other parts of the globe.

FSC-Watch, a group concerned the FSC is losing its credibility, points out the organization has lost its critical edge as evident through case after case of unreliable certification in seven different countries around the world including the US.


Further Reading

To find out more about the FSC have a look at their website fsc.org. Or for a critical look at their work, check out FSC-Watch.

  • Greener Ideal Staff

    Greener Ideal helps you live your life in more sustainable ways with green living tips and commentary on the latest environment news. We want to protect the planet and reduce our collective carbon footprint.

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