The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a certification system designed to ensure that wood comes from socially and ecologically responsible practices. Because the FSC label helps consumers distinguish wood products from well-managed forests and has been an important tool for protecting our forests, it has enjoyed the support of the conservation community since it was created 20 years ago.  However, Greenpeace has been increasingly concerned with the growing number of certificates being awarded to poor performing operations and weak policies and standards, such as the FSC’s ‘controlled wood’ system, presenting a reputational risk to the FSC. Resolute Forest Products’ Thunder Bay mill operations are one such example of high risk “controlled wood” entering the FSC system.

The FSC controlled wood classification aims to guide manufacturers away from using wood sourced from controversial practices such as illegal logging, conversion of forests to plantations or non-forest uses (for example, cutting down a forest and turning it into palm oil plantation), and high conservation value (HCV) forests, social conflict areas and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The majority of controlled wood is wood from non-FSC certified forests that can be mixed or matched with certified wood and labeled as FSC. This wood must come from a non-controversial source - called ‘controlled wood’.

The FSC’s controlled wood classification was introduced to allow more FSC material mixed with non-certified material to be labeled, and to provide an intermediate step to move its wood suppliers, or its own forests, to full FSC forest management certification.

Unfortunately though, companies are using controlled wood as a permanent fix to having their products labeled as FSC.  Even worse, the majority of FSC’s controlled wood supply is screened by companies to avoid the controversial sources listed above, there is no consistent approach to make these risk assessments and there is not enough accountability for how companies conduct their own risk assessments.  This is resulting in many forest areas (where the wood is being supplied from)  being wrongly classified as low risk and is increasing the risk of controversial wood entering the FSC system.

Greenpeace field investigations show clear examples of how this is happening and how wood from destructive practices, that threatens key ecological and social values, is entering the FSC system through the controlled wood system.

Controlled wood is out of control

Today we releaWoodland caribou, a threatened species, is an example of a High Conservation Value. sed a case study showing that controlled wood sourced by Resolute Forest Products, the largest logging company in Canada, comes from a vast geographic area containing known habitat for species at risk, as well as conflicts between Aboriginal communities and resource extraction companies. The area from which Resolute is allowed to source this wood without full FSC certification is huge - 120 million hectares - the size of France, Germany and the UK combined! Greenpeace has done mapping which shows that several areas in this region are "Endangered Forests" in need of immediate conservation. (Image: Woodland caribou, a threatened species, is an example of a High Conservation Value. © Markus Mauthe / Greenpeace)

Wood from an area this large should not be given blanket approval to enter the FSC system, particularly when there are known risks and conflicts in the area. So, there is a very high risk that ‘controversial’ wood - such as wood from the habitat of the threatened woodland caribou - is entering into Resolute’s Thunder Bay mill. Resolute should not be allowed to sell FSC certified products from caribou habitat, as the link between logging and caribou decline is well documented.

As one of the founding members of the FSC, Greenpeace believes that it is the world’s most credible forest certification system. However, for the system to secure the confidence of consumers - and ours! - it needs to make sure that it immediately puts halt to  weak practices and strengthens standards such as the controlled wood system.  This is one of the critical steps that the FSC needs to take to ensure its system stays strong.

The FSC is currently holding a consultation on proposals to strengthen the controlled wood system. Greenpeace encourages members to send feedback to the FSC in support the strengthening measures being proposed. 

This is the third in a series of FSC case studies to highlight good and the bad examples of FSC around the world. Check out our case studies on EcoTrust from British Columbia, and one from Finland.

Let’s keep FSC strong: our forests need it!