Is FSC Certified Timber Really Eco-Friendly?

fsc logoThe Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is widely recognized as a third party certifier of forest products. Can their products be trusted? Their good intentions may be superseded by realities.

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FSC Founding Principles

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Founding Assembly took place in Toronto, Canada in 1993 after a lot of discussion at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. As of 2011, the organization had conferred 20,000 certificates upon forests all over the world. The FSC requires forest owners and managers to observe their 10 principles: comply with all FSC laws; establish long term tenure and use rights; uphold the rights of indigenous peoples; respect the social and economic wellbeing of forest workers; maintain or enhance the economic, social, and environmental benefits forests give; maintain or restore the biodiversity, resources, and landscapes of the forest ecosystem; implement, monitor, and document the forest management plan; show progress toward forest management goals; ensure that high conservation value forests in places such as national parks are maintained; and finally, manage plantations according to FSC principles.

Indigenous Peoples’ and Workers’ Rights

One of the principles has to do with the rights of indigenous peoples, who inhabit forests in many countries. As early as 1994, the FSC required free prior and informed consent on the part of indigenous peoples when any forest management decisions are made. Currently, the FSC has a Social Policy Program (SPP) that requires the views of indigenous people to be taken into account. The SPP also covers the rights of forest workers. Their employment conditions must comply with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the FSC promotes dialogue in order to ensure that conditions are continually met and that the social, cultural, and spiritual needs are accounted for.


The FSC has had success in many regions. In Indonesia, the Koperasi Hutan Jaya Lestari cooperative (KHJL) received FSC certification in 2005. KHJL manages and supplies teak for furniture and in 2008, they received the right to manage a community plantation of teak, which is controlled by the Indonesian government. This is a significant development because it shows that  the cooperative could be trusted by significant powers to manage the forest responsibly. Teak is in very high demand for many products, which has meant in the past that deforestation occurred for the sake of Western consumers. KHJL has shown that forests can be managed sustainably and that communication between the cooperative and members can be democratic and fair.

Allegations against the FSC

The main benefit of the FSC is the fact that a third party is able to monitor the activities that take place in forests and on plantations. However, some objections have been raised about the organization. At the end of 2006, FSC Watch was set up to investigate the actions of the group. One of the main issues FSC Watch uncovered is that the forests being certified by the FSC are mainly in rich countries. In 2006, 82% of the forests were located in Europe and North America and only 6% were located in Asia-Pacific and Africa. Given that deforestation is mainly taking place in the southern hemisphere, this is a big problem. In 2012, B&Q and Wickes, two large DIY stores in the UK, were caught selling falsely certified FSC plywood from Malaysia. The wood was sold by Asia Plywood Company (APC), which had pledged that 70% of the plywood content was sourced from New Zealand pine. Despite the fact that this was uncovered, APC continued selling the plywood with the FSC label when the chain of custody certification expired. In Papua New Guinea, FSC certified the company SGS, which maintains that all log exports from the country are legal, despite the fact that illegal logging is rampant in PNG. A spokesperson from SGS was quoted as saying that legality means different things to different people. Perhaps the FSC is not as strong an organization as it imagines itself to be. There are many products on the market however that have been produced sustainably without having to worry about the FSC.

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