FSC timber: worth its weight in wood?


Timber is obviously a key, and common, material within the landscaping and construction sector and I regularly see product literature and websites making liberal reference to FSC timber.

Forest - njj4 on Flickr

Forest - njj4 on Flickr

These references range from the reassuring,

All hardwoods are obtained with documentation as to the origin and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

to the rather more vague,

By xxxx we are committed to sourcing at least xx% of our timber from FSC certified sources.

or the slightly underwhelming commitment,

to sourcing FSC timber wherever possible.


In any case, whatever the statement, I am left with several questions.

What does FSC certification actually mean?
Is it worth anything?
And how can we be sure?


A good place to start is with the UK’s Forest Stewardship Council.

FSC is an international, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting responsible management of the world’s forests. It was founded in 1993 in response to public concern about deforestation and demand for a trustworthy wood-labelling scheme.

FSC UK is a registered charity. It is supported by NGOs including WWF, Greenpeace and the Woodland Trust.

It’s worth being clear here that the FSC offers, in the words of the WWF, a ‘market driven approach for encouraging sustainable forest management’.

The FSC doesn’t seek to preserve forests from timber sourcing, but to allow forests to be used in a long-term sustainable way, which doesn’t harm the livelihoods of indigenous peoples.

Often the WWF campaigns to protect something outright (e.g. species), but here it is quite clear that it supports ‘what is currently the most credible certification system to ensure environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of forests.’

This is to me unequivocal and eminently acceptable, but I think it is worth being clear that FSC is not the arboreal equivalent of shopping at your local farmers’ market instead of Tesco; the FSC is concerned with the large-scale (governments and multinational corporations) use (cutting lots of trees down) of timber resources in a responsible (planting more) and sustainable (long term) manner.

The FSC runs a global forest certification system with two key components: Forest Management and Chain of Custody certification. This system allows consumers to identify, purchase and use timber and forest products produced from well-managed forests.

Two important concepts here.

Forest Management certification involves an inspection of an owner’s forest management processes to ensure it meets the FSC Principles and Criteria (P&C) of good forest management. The P&C describe how the forests have to be managed to meet the social, economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual needs of present and future generations.

Chain of Custody certification tracks FSC timber from the forest, through the many processing and manufacturing processes, to the customer.

So, going back to my opening quote, the manufacturer involved doesn’t have Forest Management certification (as they don’t own the forest) but Chain of Custody certification indicating that the timber they use can be traced back to FSC certified sources.

The Forest Stewardship Council’s “tick tree” logo is used on product labels to indicate whether products are certified under the FSC system. When you see the FSC logo on a label you can buy timber and other wood products, such as paper, with the confidence that you are not contributing to the destruction of the world’s forests.

This is one area where I think FSC certification is, in practice, a bit misleading. The logo should be applied to a label (i.e. a product). The three quotes which opened this post all came from UK manufacturers and suppliers who display the FSC logo prominently on their website.

But with only the first can you be sure that the timber used in every product is FSC certified. With the others it isn’t. And to be fair they don’t claim FSC certification for a product where it is not the case, but the FSC logo nonetheless adorns website headers and footers, giving, to my mind, a misleading impression.

And the result of this is a little less belief in the meaningfulness of FSC certification as a whole.

FSC UK is legally and financially independent of FSC international. It sets forest management standards for the UK, promotes the system and provides an information service.

The FSC is not a monolithic forestry standard. It is based on national working groups in more than 50 countries. And there is variability within FSC’s forest certification standard between one region of the world an another.

For example, within Canada, ‘the FSC regional standards of British Columbia and the Pacific Coast contain quantitative riparian buffer zone thresholds, with the FSC British Columbia standards being the most restrictive.’

Every national standard is approved by FSC International.

This is not a bad thing, as it takes into account the huge differences between countries and environments, but it is worth pointing out that understanding what FSC certification means in one country is no more than a guide to what it means in another.


Ultimately, the success of the FSC will depend on turning sustainable timber procurement into engrained and non-negotiable part of the supply chain, where non-compliance is a serious transgression, like say, for example, the use of child labour.

Until then FSC timber will retain the hint of an optional, feel-good extra.

Buying timber with the FSC label helps you to say ‘No’ to the destruction of the world’s forests.

Nice, but just 10% of the world’s forests are certified, and only 35% to the FSC programme.

Until buying sustainable timber is the only acceptable option then the FSC will need to keep fighting its corner.


3 Responses to “FSC timber: worth its weight in wood?”

  1. timber flooring prices Says:

    rainforest is getting less and less, what we gonna do?

  2. What Is Certified Wood? « Green Marketing Says:

    […] FSC timber: worth its weight in wood? (ewtrial.wordpress.com) […]

  3. 6 things you can do to Environmentally differentiate your Wood – Case Study – Linking Sustainability Says:

    […] FSC timber: worth its weight in wood? (ewtrial.wordpress.com) […]

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