The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international non-profit organization established in 1993 to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. Its main tools for achieving this are standards setting, independent certification and labeling of forest products. This offers customers around the world the ability to choose products from socially and environmentally responsible forests. FSC was established as a response to concerns over the state of the forest, globally. Half of the world’s forests have already been altered, degraded, destroyed or converted into other land uses. Despite aid-funded programs and forest legislation, these efforts have proved insufficient to reduce forest loss or forest degradation. Much of the remaining forests today suffer from illegal exploitation and otherwise poor management. The need to substantially improve forest management practices persists.
FSC is the first worldwide certification system established for forests and forest products. This voluntary market driven mechanism can be regarded as one of the most important initiatives of the last decade to promote better forest management.
Forest management according to FSC’s internationally recognized standards delivers environmental services to local and global communities, including clean air and water, and contributes to mitigating impacts of climate change. FSC directly or indirectly addresses issues such as illegal exploitation, forest loss or forest degradation and Global warming and has positive impacts on economic development, environmental conservation, poverty alleviation and social and political empowerment.
FSC is an international association of members. It is a platform for forest owners, timber industries, social groups and environmental organizations to come together to find solutions to improve forest management practices. FSC works to ensure the permanent existence of forest areas through responsible forest management and conservation.
FSC, as being a market driven mechanism, empowers consumers to express their demand in the market for responsible forestry by offering an independent, global and credible label for forest products. According to Greenpeace, consumers can choose forest products with the confidence that they are not contributing to the destruction of the world’s forests. Moreover, the idea of the FSC logo is to guarantee that the product comes from responsible sources - environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable. The FSC label can be found on a wide range of timber and non-timber products from paper and furniture to medicine and jewelry.
Vision and mission
FSC’s vision is where “the world’s forests are managed to meet the social, ecological and economic rights and needs of the present generation without compromising those of future generations.“
FSC’s mission is to “promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world's forests.”
Facts and figures
FSC’s current unprecedented growth rate is a response to market demand for FSC certified timber and non-timber forest products. In December 2007, some 93 million hectares – the equivalent of roughly 10% of the world’s production forests - are certified to FSC’s Principles and Criteria in 78 countries. More than 7500 FSC Chain of Custody certificates are active in 84 countries. An ever-increasing number of companies are committing to FSC including home-improvement or DIY companies, publishers, retailers amongst many others. Demand in Europe and North America is growing and helping drive the increased growth of FSC certified areas around the world.
The FSC website has up-to-date statistics on regional distributions, ownership and forest type and numbers of FSC certificates representing all valid forest management and chain of custody certificates. Only continuous compliance can assure that certificate holders can keep their certificates.
Global and local
FSC is a global action network. While the FSC International Center is based in Bonn, Germany, it has a decentralized network of National Initiatives and Regional Offices that develop standards and promote FSC certification in many countries around the world. National Initiatives are the foundation of the FSC network making FSC more accessible and locally appropriate. As of December 2007, FSC is represented in 46 countries around the world with national offices in:
- AFRICA: Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Cote D'Ivoire; Democratic Republic of Congo; Ethiopia; Gabon; Ghana; Mozambique; South Africa; and Zambia.
- EUROPE: Belgium; Bulgaria; Croatia; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France, Germany; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Netherlands; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Slovakia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Ukraine; and UK.
How are FSC’s aims put into practice?
FSC promotes socially and environmentally responsible forest management world wide through standard setting, accreditation of certifiers and trademark assurance.
Together these activities ensure that the final product bearing the FSC logo can be traced through the production process and is a guarantee to customers that the product comes from responsible sources.
FSC standard development
FSC has 10 Principles and associated Criteria that form the basis for all FSC forest management standards. FSC International sets the framework for developing and maintaining international, national and sub-national standards. This shall ensure that the process for developing FSC policies and standards are:
- Transparent: The process for developing policies and standards is clear and accessible.
- Independent: Standards are developed in a way which balances the interests of all stakeholders - social, environmental and economic - ensuring that no one interest dominates.
- Participatory : FSC strives to involve all interested people and groups in the development of FSC policies and standards.
Based on the FSC Principles and Criteria, FSC has developed more specific standards for national or regional contexts, specific forest types and for specific other forest products such as non-timber forest products (Brazil nuts, bamboo), but also other forest benefits, such as recreation and conservation. In countries where these standards are not yet developed, certification bodies can adapt their generic standards - approved by FSC - to local conditions. These standards are called ‘locally-adapted generic standards’. FSC is in the process of creating its own generic standards to increase consistency and robustness of the FSC system globally.
FSC forest certification requirement
With its 10 Principles and 56 associated Criteria, FSC offers a comprehensive set of universally applicable requirements for responsible forest management. The aim is to ensure that forest resources are managed to meet the social, economic and ecological needs of present and future generations.
The FSC Principles and Criteria are the only internationally recognized standards for responsible forest management. They apply to all tropical, temperate and boreal forests and many to plantations and partially replanted forests. Though mainly designed for forest management for timber products, they are also largely relevant for non-timber products (e.g. Brazil nuts) and other environmental services such as clean water and air and carbon sequestration. The FSC Principles are a complete package and their sequence does not represent an ordering of priority.
|Principle 1: Compliance with all applicable laws and international treaties.|
|Principle 2: Demonstrated and uncontested, clearly defined, long–term land tenure and use rights.|
|Principle 3: Recognition and respect of indigenous people’s rights.|
|Principle 4: Maintenance or enhancement of long-term social and economic well-being of forest workers and local communities and respect of worker’s rights in compliance with International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.|
|Principle 5: Equitable use and sharing of benefits derived from the forest.|
|Principle 6: Reduction of environmental impact of logging activities and maintenance of the ecological functions and integrity of the forest.|
|Principle 7: Appropriate and continuously updated management plan.|
|Principle 8: Appropriate monitoring and assessment activities to assess the condition of the forest, management activities and their social and environmental impacts.|
|Principle 9: Maintenance of High Conservation Value Forests (HCVFs) defined as environmental and social values that are considered to be of outstanding significance or critical importance.|
|Principle 10: In addition to compliance with all of the above, plantations must contribute to reduce the pressures on and promote the restoration and conservation of natural forests.|
Forest management (FM) certification
Forest management certification is the basic building block of the FSC system. It is a voluntary process for verifying responsible forest practices in all types of forests and plantations across the world. It is up to a forest owner, or representative of a group of forest owners and operators, to initiate the certification process by requesting an independent certifier to inspect the forest and to see if the management meets the FSC requirements for certification. Only FSC accredited certification body can evaluate, monitor and certify companies to FSC standards.
A certificate is awarded for good management practices that include strong social, environmental and economic activities. All FSC certified management practices must comply with the social and environmental standards of the FSC Principles and Criteria. This requires that forest management is compliant with national legislation, respects local use rights and indigenous peoples’ rights, maintains the ecological functions of the forest and its biodiversity, enhances the economic viability, and carries out adequate management planning and monitoring of the operation.
FSC accredited certification bodies certify and audit each individual forest management operation. If the forest management is in full compliance with FSC requirements, the FSC certificate is awarded. If the forest management is not fully compliant, pre-conditions are noted which must be fulfilled before the FSC certificate can be awarded. If minor non-compliances are noted, the certificate can be issued with conditions that have to be met within a clearly determined timeframe.
Once certification is awarded, FSC accredited certification bodies audit each FSC certificate at least once a year. If during these audits the certification body finds that a company has non-compliances with FSC requirements, Corrective Action Requests (CARs) are issued and the company is required to make the prescribed changes within a given timeframe or else it will lose its FSC certificate. Depending on the seriousness of the infringement the timeline can go from one year for minor administrative infringements to immediate action for major infringements.
Chain of custody (CoC) certification
Once a forest is certified it is important to be able to trace the products that come from it throughout the supply chain to ensure that any claims on the origin of the product are credible and verifiable. The FSC chain of custody certification is a voluntary process. FSC chain of custody is a tracking system that allows manufacturers and traders to demonstrate that timber comes from a forest that is responsibly managed in accordance with the FSC Principles and Criteria. It tracks the flow of certified wood through the supply chain and across borders through each successive stage - including processing, transformation and manufacturing - all the way to the final product. It is up to a company to initiate the certification process by requesting the services of an independent certification body to inspect its internal tracking procedures. Only FSC-accredited certification bodies can evaluate, monitor and certify companies to FSC standards.
|FSC Controlled Wood applies to timber and non-timber forest products. It helps manufacturers and traders to avoid that the material they source comes from:|
|1. illegal exploitation;|
|2. Forests in which violation of traditional and Civil rights occur;|
|3. Forests in which High Conservation Values are threatened by management activities;|
|4. Natural and semi natural forests where conversion occurs; and|
|5. Forests in which GMOs are used.|
All operations that want to produce an FSC certified product or want to make corresponding sales claims must comply with FSC’s international standards for chain of custody. An operation must specify the range of products they wish to sell as FSC certified and promote with the FSC trademark. The certification body inspects the operation to ensure that controls are in place to identify eligible sources for the specified product range and to prevent certified and recycled material from mixing with material from unacceptable sources. If an operation complies with FSC standards, the company is issued an FSC chain of custody certificate. Major failure to comply with the standard will normally disqualify the candidate from certification or lead to de-certification.
The FSC ‘Mixed Sources’ label allows manufacturers to provide FSC labeled products that include both FSC certified material and material that complies with the FSC Controlled Wood standard or is recycled. Besides addressing international concerns on illegal logging, FSC Controlled Wood includes a balanced consideration of key social and environmental issues which ensures a minimum performance level on the ground. Thus it is ensured that certified material does not mix with material from unacceptable sources - illegally harvested, or resulting from forest conversion areas where high conservation values are threatened, GMOs trees are used or social conflicts occur.
Only FSC chain of custody certified operations can promote their products with the FSC trademarks and only for the particular range of products they have specified. A company can promote its certified products through on-product labeling, advertising material or business-to-business communication. While the FSC market share is growing rapidly on a global basis, the FSC label provides a credible link between responsible production and consumption.
To maintain independence between the standards it sets and the operations seeking certification, FSC does not conduct certification audits itself. FSC has developed rigorous procedures and standards to evaluate whether organizations of certifiers (certification bodies) can provide independent and competent evaluation (certification) services. This process is known as ‘accreditation’.
A potential certification body must gain FSC accreditation to be able to evaluate, monitor and certify companies to FSC standards. To become FSC accredited, certifiers have to comply with an extensive set of rules and procedures which are verified by Accreditation Services International, ASI (a wholly owned and controlled subsidiary of the FSC). This includes an office audit and the witnessing of one or more trial audits in the field. ASI monitors accredited certification bodies to ensure the appropriateness of their operations can be continuously guaranteed.
To control the continued implementation of FSC rules and procedures, every year ASI conducts at least one office and one field audit for each FSC accredited certification body. The exact number and distribution of ASI audits takes a number of complex settings into account (geographic areas, policies or products that carry increased risk) and the number of FSC certificates handled by an accredited certification body and is meant to ensure that the certification services delivered by the certifier meet the requirements of the FSC.
Summaries of ASI surveillance audits are publicly available on the ASI website. If an FSC accredited certification body is found to not fully comply with FSC rules and procedures, Corrective Action Requests (CARs) are raised. These have to be fulfilled within a well defined time frame. Depending on the seriousness of the infringement, the timeline can vary from one year to three months or even immediately. A certification body will be suspended and lose its FSC accreditation if it fails to comply with FSC requirements within the required time.
The FSC label
|FSC 100% label:||Products carrying the 100% FSC label come only from well-managed forests that have met FSC’s high social and environmental standards.|
|FSC mixed sources:||Products with a Mixed Sources label support the development of responsible forest management worldwide. The wood comes from FSC-certified well-managed forests, recycled material and/or controlled wood which come from non-controversial sources.|
|FSC recycled:||Products with 100% Recycled label support the re-use of forest resources which helps to reduce the pressure on natural forests.|
The FSC logo is a branded trust mark that identifies responsible forest management in the market place. It empowers consumers to make responsible purchasing decisions on forest products.
All forest products with the FSC label carry a guarantee to consumers that the product comes from responsible sources. An FSC certified product can only carry the FSC logo if the production chain can be fully and reliably traced from the forest through each and every processing stage all the way to the shelf.
The FSC label is appearing on more products every day. There are three FSC labels: FSC pure, FSC mixed sources and FSC recycled.
To check whether an FSC label is valid, the certificate number on the label can be verified by reviewing the FSC certificates list or the FSC on-line certificate database.
FSC owns three trademarks:
1. The name "FOREST STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL",
2. The initials "FSC", and
3. The "checkmark-and-tree" logo.
Any users of these trademarks must have a license and comply with guidelines and regulations set by FSC.
The expenses for a successful certification of forest management must be divided into
- the costs for an enhancement of sustainability
- the costs for audits (these are the controls by third parties)
- secondary costs (e.g. losses of stumpage revenues)
According to an evaluation by the Savcor company (a large service provider in forestry), the costs for direct audits in Nordic countries can effectively become marginal. They are decreasing with increasing audited territory due to effects of economy of scale, and can differ between 2,50 € and 0,25 € per ha.
On the other hand, the preparation of the first or the pre-audit require a considerable amount of resources. A forest mamagement plan must be compiled, which requires a lot of data on tree species and other plants, age distribution, annual increment and many more. While this information is often easily available in European countries, where forests have been managed for many decades, such taxations have never taken place in the large forests of developing countries.
All together, the Savcor company estimated the effective costs for FSC certification in Nordic countries between 2.6 and 19.1 €/ha.
Concerns and large-scale public debates about the state of world’s forests escalated globally in the 1980’s and led to a gridlock between different stakeholders fighting about environmental, social and economic interests. To overcome global forest loss or forest degradation and forest degradation, various attempts had been tried, including the International Tropical Timber Agreement, CITES and the Global Environment Facility. However, apart from small local successes, these approaches turnd out to be unsuitable for fighting deforestation. Furthermore, campaigns of environmental NGOs aimed at the blockade of international tropical timber trade. Although these actions contributed to a considerable increase of public perception regarding deforestation, mainly in Tropical rainforests, a lacking cross-sectoral approach was obvious and convinced environmental organisations to explore more pro-active solutions. Thus, in 1990, a group of timber users, traders, social groups and environmental organizations came together in California, USA, unified by the need for an honest and credible system for identifying well-managed forests as acceptable sources of forest products. The need for global consensus on what is meant by ‘good forest management’ prompted an intensive consultation process with representatives from tropical and temperate regions.
The clear need for an effective mechanism to improve forest conservation worldwide was further emphasized in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. With world leaders’ signatures on the resolutions taken at the Rio conference, expectations were growing that the international community would join forces to stop the destruction of our basic livelihoods and embrace sustainable development. Concerning forests, the world summit could not agree on legally binding commitments, although environmental NGOs along with some governmental organisations pushed for it. For that reason, certification of forest management became one of the instruments, favoured by the environmental NGOs to further promote sustainable forest management.
In 1993, the consultation process initiated in 1990 by some representatives of the timber industry, social groups and environmental organizations ended, confirming support for the development of a worldwide certification and accreditation system that would cover all forest types: the creation of the Forest Stewardship Council, FSC. To this day, FSC provides a platform for these different interest groups to communicate in a dynamic environment where each and every person has a voice and an equal say.
Despite Rio’s aims, nature’s treasures continued to perish and this still holds true today. According to FAO statistics, 13 million hectares of natural forests are forest loss or forest degradation each year. Initiatives from governments and international organization did not manage to end the plundering. The need to substantially improve forest management practices persists. It is important to understand that deforestation is not only driven by non-sustainable methods of forest management, but also by urban development, illegal logging, land conversion, forest fires, and climate change.
FSC is a membership-based organisation with a governance structure based on participation, democracy, equity and transparency.
The FSC system relies on stakeholder consultation and consensus based processes. Power is equally divided between social, environmental and economic interests as well as the global north and south. This ensures that no one interest group can dominate. This way of working has proven to be effective and independent of government structures or strong vested interests.
FSC has three levels of decision making bodies: The General Assembly, the Board of Directors and the Executive Director.
The General Assembly is the highest decision-making body in FSC and is made up of the three membership chambers, each of which are equally represented by the global north and south: environmental, social and economic. The chamber structure maintains the balance of voting power between different interests without having to limit the number of members.
Every three years, all members representing different interests from all over the world are unified by their commitment to the FSC's mission. Each General Assembly represents an opportunity for everybody to share, learn, establish new alliances and exchange and explore business opportunities to create a better future of the forests.
The FSC Board of Directors equally represents the social, environmental and economic interests of FSC members for both the global North and South. These nine individuals – members and advocates of FSC - are elected by members from their respective chamber.
The Executive Director, accountable to the FSC Board of Directors, runs FSC on a day to day basis with the support of a multi-cultural professional team.
International recognition and wide-ranging support
A wide range of organizations, companies and individuals around the world representing social, environmental and economic interests, endorse FSC and show their active commitment.
FSC is the only international forest certification scheme supported by the World Wide Fund for Nature, Greenpeace, and FERN. Numerous governments worldwide have strengthened market-based incentives for FSC certification by providing tax benefits to certified companies, referencing FSC products as requirements in their procurement policies and supporting projects linked to FSC through their international development agencies. Companies value FSC as a tool to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, gain access to new markets and maintain access to existing ones. FSC is also the international system preferred by financial institutions for risk management related to forest management activities.
In their support for FSC, a number of European companies launched a website, WhyFSC, providing information and testimonials on FSC, featuring documents, reports and independent research by scientists, NGO’s, legal authorities and governments.
FSC is recognized as an organization that provides a truly independent, global, credible, transparent and open multi-stakeholder system. It provides market-driven solution to responsible forest management.
Why do many stakeholders support FSC?
The inclusiveness and transparency of the FSC system relies on stakeholder consultation and consensus based processes. This way of working has proven to be effective and independent of government structures or strong vested interests. FSC is the only global standard setting forest management standard applicable worldwide. Furthermore, it is the only global forest management certification system:
- where social, environmental and industry interests carry the same weight;
- that prohibits the conversion of forests and other natural habitat;
- respects the rights of indigenous peoples;
- that has a forest management standard that is no barrier to trade;
- that prohibits the use of highly hazardous pesticides;
- that prohibits the cultivation of genetically modified trees (GMOs);
- with an integrated accreditation program that systematically controls its certification bodies;
- requires regular yearly controls of each forest management operation certified to its standards; and
- controls the non-certified timber content in FSC certified products.
FSC is a member of the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling (ISEAL) Alliance, an association of leading voluntary international standard setting and certification organizations focused on social and environmental issues. Since 2006, FSC complies with ISEAL’s Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental standards, assuring the highest standards for credible behavior in ethical trade. To comply with the code, FSC demonstrates a credible standards development processes and reassurance that the majority of stakeholders will support the resulting standards.
Competing certification schemes and what others say
There are a number of certification schemes for forest management that exist in the market but FSC is the only one endorsed by a wide range of companies, NGOs and individuals around the world representing social, environmental and economic interests. This is because other certification schemes do not have the same strict environmental, social and economic standards or such a rigorous chain of custody which tracks forest products from the forest to the final user. As the World Wide Fund for Nature and other environmental groups state in a 2006 press release, "The only certification scheme currently recognized as credible by industry, NGOs and indigenous peoples groups alike is the scheme operated by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)."
The main competiting forest certification system is the PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes), established by a number of stakeholders, including associations of the forest industry, pulp-and-paper production and forest owners in response to the creation and increasing popularity of FSC. The PEFC is currently not supported by any environmental NGOs, and has been criticised for lack of transparency, lower environmental standards, and lack of unit level certification or third party authentication.
Geographer Jared Diamond, in his 2005 book Collapse (book), sees the establishment of rival certification schemes with weaker environmental standards as a confirmation of the FSC's effectiveness: "The effectiveness of the Forest Stewardship Council has received the ultimate compliment from logging companies opposed to it: they have set up their own competing certification organizations with weaker standards. These include the Sustainable Forestry Initiative in the U.S., set up by the American Forest and Paper Association; the Canadian Standards Association; and the Pan-European Forest Council." He then questions the credibility of these organizations: "All of these 'knockoffs' differ from the FSC in that they do not require independent third-party certification, but they permit companies to certify themselves (I'm not joking)."
Group certification allows small forest owners to join together and share certification costs. In December 2007 more than one in seven FSC certificates were community owned forests. Group certification has been very successful in Switzerland. In Brazil, the largest certified community forest is FSC certified.
Without forests, the apes would all be dead. Therefore the forests have a higher priority than the apes.
The EcoEarth/Rainforest Portal has publicly questioned the FSC-endorsed policy of old-growth forest logging. They assert that research does not support the idea that this type of logging is carbon positive or sustainable and supplies research, though these views are generally not upheld by the scientific community. In European capitals, there are more apes than forests.
- Footprints in the Forests: A FERN's assessment of 8 forest certification schemes (2004)
- The effects of FSC Certification in Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Russia, Sweden and the UK. WWF (2005)
- Consuming Canada's Boreal Forest: The chain of destruction from logging companies to consumers. Greenpeace (2007)
- Experiences with voluntary standards initiatives and related multi-stakeholder dialogues. B. Lang. GTZ (2006)
- Tage Klingberg, University of Gävle, A European view of forest certification issues for consideration. Why the organization of family forest owners in Europe turned away from FSC.
- Newsletter published by a logging industry association, the NAFI
- Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman (a norwegian consumer watchdog group)
- Certified wood
- Marine Stewardship Council
Official FSC sites
- FSC International
- FSC certificates in figures
- How to become FSC certified
- FSC Controlled Wood Resource Center
- FSC online worldwide product search – database of FSC certified materials, products and companies around the world
Asia & Oceania:
- FSC Czech Republic
- FSC Denmark
- FSC Finland
- FSC France
- FSC Germany
- FSC Italy
- FSC Netherlands
- FSC Poland
- FSC Slovakia
- FSC Spain
- FSC Sweden
- FSC Switzerland
- FSC UK
- FSC online paper search Europe – database of FSC certified paper products and companies in Europe
- FSC online product search UK - database of FSC certified products and companies in the UK
- FSC Broker Project – linking FSC certified producers in Central and Eastern Europe to Western European markets
Independent Observers of the FSC
- FSC Watch - Independent Observer of the Forest Stewartship Council (FSC)
- FSC Russia - Independent Observer of Forest Certification and Forestry
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