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Does the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label mean anything anymore?

Whenever any of us at EcoFrenzy go out to buy a product made from wood, we look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label which is supposed to indicate that the product has come from sustainable and ethically acceptable sources, as opposed from those where forests are being destroyed.

EcoFrenzy are upset to hear that in reality this may not be the case. There is little evidence that forestry practices worldwide have significantly improved over the last two decades. Some marginal changes have been made by some FSC-certified companies in places such as Canada and Scandinavia (from where the UK obtains the vast majority of its imported wood).

These marginal changes may mean that loggers leave a few trees standing in an area cleared of forest, they may reduce damage to streams and rivers and reduce pollution from heavy machinery, but in terms of sustainability and value to wildlife habitat the logged areas leave a big question mark.

So what has happened to such a great idea?

There are 30 or so companies that carry out assessments of compliance with FSC’s standards but they all compete for the same business to issue or deny FSC certificates to logging companies. The certifiers know that they are likely to gain more business if they are lenient so they turn a blind eye to problems, postpone sanctions and issue rather than deny a certificate.

The FSC and a linked organisation are supposed to oversee the certification companies and ensure they are following the rules, but they have consistently failed to do so, and in fact the FSC is almost powerless to really control the certification companies, which carry on issuing certificates to non-compliant timber companies.

This probably means we are often being misled into thinking that the FSC logo guarantees that products are from an ‘environmentally acceptable, socially beneficial and economically sustainable’ source.