Greenpeace considers the Forest Stewardship Council to be the only credible global certification standard for good forest management. There are many reasons for this, but it is mostly because FSC is a three-chamber system that has representation from economic players as well as environmental NGOs and social groups. It also sets the highest ecological bar because its mandate is to "protect forests" and to only allow responsible forestry.
However, 20 years on, FSC is now at a crossroads. The system has grown enormously as the FSC logo has gained international market recognition. This is partly because conservation groups, such as Greenpeace, have invested heavily in promoting FSC practices. However, as the system has grown, the quality of certification has diminished in some areas.
While FSC is still the best certification system we have, it can and must do better.
There are two areas where FSC must improve if it wants to continue its mandate of protecting forests: it must provide more concrete guidance on which high conservation values (HCVs) need to be protected and, it must clean up its so-called "controlled wood system".
A Greenpeace case study released this week shows how important both of these issues are. The study shows that FSC granted certificates to Resolute Forest Products for forest areas in some of its concessions in Canada where logging threatens core high conservation values, namely intact forests which happen to be the last remaining habitat of the threatened woodland caribou, and where logging does not have the consent of Indigenous peoples because of its impact on their lands. Secondly, the study shows that even after FSC realised that these logging practices were in violation of its Principles and Criteria and suspended Resolute's FSC certificates, it continues to allow this wood to enter the FSC system as "controlled wood" and to be sold under the FSC label by Resolute owned mills.
There are two problems here. The first was that those areas were certified in the first place. If FSC had better guidance on how to conserve high conservation values, controversial areas wouldn't be certified in the first place... The second problem is that even after FSC decided that those practices could not be certified because of fundamental problems, it then allowed that wood to continue to enter into the system. We're talking about wood harvested from practices that may be contributing to wiping out a species at risk, and that do not have the consent of affected Indigenous communities.
Encouragingly, FSC is currently contemplating changes within the controlled wood system that close the current loopholes to significantly reduce the risk of controversial wood entering the FSC product stream. Key changes that are being consulted on, and that FSC membership must get fully behind, include the requirement that any wood sourced from areas of intact forest, which caribou rely on for their survival, as well as wood that is harvested without the consent of indigenous peoples (FPIC), be prevented from being designated controlled wood. These requirements must immediately be adopted and implemented for Controlled Wood and for FSC forest management in order for FSC to maintain its credibility in the marketplace.
FSC is still delivering the goods in some places. Previously published Greenpeace case studies, from British Columbia in Canada (Ecotrust) and northern California (Mendocino Redwood Company) in the US, show that the system can deliver significant social and environmental benefits. But unfortunately, this most recent example from Canada highlights the fundamental problems FSC faces.
Greenpeace believes that FSC can fix the problems relating to high conservation value protection and controlled wood, but it must now take the opportunity to address them before it loses credibility in the marketplace.
Catharine Grant is a Forests Campaigner at Greenpeace Canada.