The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was created in 1993 to allow companies and the public to identify products coming from responsibly managed forests. Two decades later, the FSC remains the only credible forest management certification system, but it's not perfect.

FSC at workGreenpeace fears that as the system has grown, the FSC's implementation and interpretation of its standards have been watered down. This is why we have just published the first set of case studies highlighting both the best practice and the areas where FSC has to improve to maintain its reputation and ensure it is a logo that consumers can trust.

The first case study looks at good forest management practices, the other looks at the murkier side of what FSC calls 'controlled wood'.

The good side

A great example of FSC-certified forest management can be found in British Columbia (B.C.), Canada where Ecotrust Canada has a certificate for a group of small forest managers located on Vancouver Island and in the Kootenays region in B.C.

The Ecotrust Canada certificate is an example of FSC doing what it was created to do: extract wood using low impact methods that conserve the forest’s ecological and social values – which is economically viable because consumers are indeed willing to pay extra for good wood products. The certificate members are actively working to conserve habitat for species at risk, as well as restoring old-growth forests and natural tree species diversity, which has declined through decades of destructive 'status quo' industrial logging practices.

Ecotrust Canada’s members also have a positive track record of relationships with First Nations communities – including a formal agreement with the Hupacasath First Nation, which recognises its rights and title to the land and has its consent for forestry practices.

This group certificate is an example that highlights how the FSC does play a very positive role in forest management that benefits forest ecosystems, forestry companies and communities. This is the high bar that the FSC must be held to for all its certificates.

The not so good

FSC at riskUnfortunately, in Scandinavia the mismanagement by companies of FSC-controlled wood is threatening the survival of species at risk.

What is controlled wood you ask? As a consumer you see it as a FSC 'MIX' label in products in your DIY or bookstore – a small label assuring you that 'this product comes from responsible sources'. It is wood supply screened by companies to avoid controversial wood from 'uncontrolled' sources such as illegal logging, conversion of forests to plantations or non-forest uses, high conservation value (HCV) forests, social conflict and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). This wood is either mixed or matched with FSC fully certified wood to produce FSC 'MIX' products.

The three largest forestry companies in Finland have continued their business as usual. They are designating the whole country as low risk for all FSC-controlled wood categories. This is unbelievable for several reasons – which we list in the case study published today, but in summary this means:

  • Finnish experts say that the majority of the country’s threatened species are dependent on forests and are threatened by Finland’s intensive forestry. Two thirds of all forest types are threatened – and again the main reason for this is 'status quo' destructive forestry. There is a very high risk that wood from habitats for hundreds of species at risk is entering the FSC system as controlled wood.

Finland’s largest forestry companies, UPM, Metsa Group and Stora Enso, all produce FSC MIX label products, which use controlled wood. Recent field investigations show that this wood is coming from flying squirrel habitat and old-growth forests, which are being clear-cut by the Finnish state forestry company, Metsahallitus, to supply Finland’s forestry giants. This is not responsible forestry, and should not be endorsed by the FSC.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was created in 1993 to allow companies and the public to identify products coming from responsibly managed forests. My Finnish colleague Matti Liimatainen and I believe forest management can and must be improved. Currently less than 2.5 per cent of Finland’s managed forests are FSC certified while a lot of damage is being caused by the demand for FSC-controlled wood.

If the FSC wants to maintain its integrity and consumer trust, the poor practices and abuses linked to procuring controlled wood and other bad forest management need to stop immediately, and practices like those of Ecotrust Canada need to be encouraged.We need the FSC system to ensure good practices consistently across the globe and the FSC needs to take charge and protect its reputation.

I believe that forest certification plays a valuable role in conserving the world’s forests. But, as the FSC continues to expand in the marketplace, it must reassure consumers that its standards will be applied rigorously in all regions.

This means the FSC needs to strengthen monitoring of the quality of its certified operations, grow the number of products with 100 per cent FSC certified or recycled inputs and, as soon as possible, get rid of confusing and uncontrolled 'controlled' wood altogether.

If not, it risks becoming just another green washing scheme like the industry-led forest certification systems, PEFC and SFI.

View case studies here: FSC at work or FSC at risk

Judy Rodrigues is a forest campaigner with Greenpeace International

"Forest Stewardship Council", "FSC" and the checkmark-and-tree logo are registered trademarks of the Forest Stewardship Council.