Forest Stewardship Certification

Introduction

Forest certification is a system to give recognition to those forest managers who follow international standards and best practices of responsible management and fair treatment of local people. There are various systems around; all involve regular inspections and audits by accredited bodies to ensure the rules are properly adhered to. Products made from timber originating from certified forests can be labelled as such so consumers can make an informed choice to purchase products which has been ethically sourced. This requires that every processor of the certified product is itself certified to ensure that they are not cheating the system by mixing certified and non-certified timber; this is known as chain-of-custody certification. Certified timber products can both command a price premium and have access to markets closed to non-certified products.

FSC™

The first and best known forest certification is that established by the Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC), whose logo is the tree-tick mark that will be familiar that is increasingly common on furniture and paper products in the UK and US today. It is widely recognised as being the toughest certification standard - the global gold standard for responsible forest management - and is the only certification system supported by many international NGOs, including MCDI's partners Fauna & Flora International and WWF. FSC's certification scheme is based on ten principles which cover social, economic, ecological and cultural issues; they include managerial aspects as well as environmental and social requirements.

Legality

The first FSC principle requires compliance with all applicable laws and international treaties. Although this is a very basic requirement, the tropical timber industry has a poor record in this area. In areas, such as south-eastern Tanzania, where illegal logging is widespread, and necessary documents often forged, an FSC certificate can be the only way of proving that timber has been legally sourced.

Sustainability

FSC follows the guidance of ISO who state that "the concepts involved in sustainability are highly complex and still under study. At this time there are no definitive methods for measuring sustainability or confirming its accomplishment. Therefore no claim of achieving sustainability shall be made." (ISO 14021 (1999) paragraph 5.5) Instead FSC bills itself as being the mark of "responsible" forest management. However, several of FSC's principles embody concepts of sustainability. In particular principle 6 requires the "maintenance of the ecological functions and integrity of the forest", which rules out any forest management practices that are clearly unsustainable. Thus while FSC do not claim that their certificate ensures forest management is sustainable, its standards in this area are the highest in the world, and where a forestry certificate is not present, one is entitled to assume that the forest is probably not being managed sustainably.