What is Forest Stewardship Council certification?

FSC Standards for Certification
The FSC principles not only set standards for companies to responsibly manage forests, but also to treat employees fairly.
The FSC principles not only set standards for companies to responsibly manage forests, but also to treat employees fairly.
Jochen Schoengart/FSC

One thing to remember about the FSC is that it merely forms standards. The organization doesn't issue certifications, but it accredits third-party agencies, which perform audits and grant certifications to qualified parties. At the time of this article, there are 12 certifying agencies around the world [source: FSC US].

The FSC has put together standards to evaluate forest management on environmental, social and economic issues. Certifying agencies use these principles and criteria to judge forest management and chain of custody procedures. For forest stewardship in general, the FSC's principles are as follows with a summary of their criteria:

  • Compliance with laws and FSC Principles: Practices must adhere to local laws as well as these principles.
  • Tenure and use rights and responsibilities: Rights to use the land should be in order.
  • Indigenous peoples' rights: Ensure fair and legal cooperation with indigenous societies.
  • Community relations and worker's rights: Local population needs work opportunities and workers need right to organize and have fair safety and compensation regulations.
  • Benefits from the forest: Forest needs to be used efficiently and responsibly, while reducing operations waste.
  • Environmental impact: Efforts must promote biodiversity, avoid certain pesticides and consider other environmental factors that could be affected by use.
  • Management plan: The operation's details and plans must be clear, including environmental policies and descriptions of resources and techniques.
  • Monitoring and assessment: Must conduct periodic reviews of the state of the forest's productivity and changes as well as assessments of harvesting impacts and economic factors, such as costs.
  • Maintenance of high conservation value forests: Take special precautions for those forests of high conservation value.
  • Plantations: Management of plantations (areas where trees are grown like crops) need to adhere to these principles as well, and promote sustainable use of forests.
  • ­[source: FS­C]
The FSC's trademark representing Responsible Forest Management. Branding this on forest products lets consumers know they came from FSC-approved forests.
Forest Stewardship Council

Let's look at an example of the FM certification process: A farm management group voluntarily requests review for certification from the accredited agency. The agency performs an audit to check for significant failures to live up to the principles listed above. After a group earns certification, it gets an annual review. Every five years, it goes through the full renewal process again [source FSC US].­

Organizations involved in packaging, changing, or trading the resulting wood or other forest products apply for a CoC certification [source: FSC]. These include mills, furniture makers, wholesalers and retailers [source: SCS]. Like an FM certification, CoC uses a third-party agency to determine who qualifies. This third party inspects the client's inventory system to trace the wood to an FSC-certified forest and evaluate its processing. As we mentioned earlier, companies that qualify for this certification can brand their products with the FSC logo so that consumers can be sure of its origin.

So what does this mean for the market? Do consumers prefer to buy FSC-certified wood? Read on to find out.