What Does FSC-Certified Really Mean?

You know what they say about FSC-certified products... well, admittedly, I really didn't. I knew that it stood for Forestry Stewardship Council Certified, which presumably had something to do with forestry management and preservation. FSC certification is often cited as a green feature of products, construction materials and paper, but I wanted to know exactly what the green benefits of FSC Certification are.

The Top 12 Reasons to Choose FSC, from the FSC Site:

  1. FSC prohibits the conversion of natural forests to plantations, except under extremely limited circumstances.
  2. FSC requires forest managers to protect threatened High Conservation Value Forests (HCVF).
  3. FSC requires that Aboriginal Peoples rights are respected.
  4. FSC prohibits the use of Genetically Modified trees.
  5. 100% of the fibre in FSC-certified products comes from an FSC approved and independently verified source.
  6. FSC sets a common level of performance that companies must meet in order to be certified.
  7. FSC is the only forest certification system supported by major international, national and local Aboriginal, Environmental, and Social groups.
  8. FSC has strict requirements for tracking and labelling products from FSC approved sources.
  9. FSC is an international standard for forest certification that accredits regional standards developed by local stakeholders to reflect the environmental and social realities of those regions.
  10. FSC standards, certification processes and governance require equal, balanced and extensive participation from representatives of Economic, Environmental and Social interests.
  11. The North American and global marketplace recognizes FSC as the most credible and effective forest certification system.
  12. FSC is a transparent and independent verification of the source of forest products.

But it's not all great news. The FSC has come under criticism over the years. It's prohibitively expensive to become certified which limits smaller companies from achieving certification, so it may mean that a better option in a smaller company is overlooked in favor of a larger company with certification.

There have also been some questions regarding the FSC's control of its accredited auditors after investigations in 2007 revealed that Asia Pulp & Paper, a large company with FSC certification, had logged a massive natural forest in Sumatra, Indonesia threatening the survival of orangutans, tigers and elephants on the island. Certification of APP was retracted but this event harmed the credibility of the FSC. Additionally, the FSC endorses old-growth logging and logging of natural and plantation forests—practices that are seemingly not sustainable or carbon positive.

In response to this criticism, the FSC has worked to maintain high standards and responded to critics quickly and openly. They have revised guidelines to stay current and encouraged members in good standing to file disputes for investigations.

The gist of FSC certification: It's generally a decent option that filters out the worst offenders. But its policies may limit smaller companies from achieving certification, so don't rule out the little guy when comparing building materials, products and paper choices.

For more information check out the FSC website.

Image: FSC Certified Pencil Crayons, from mondomundi.com