What is FSC and is it useful?

It is common knowledge that the world has lost a devastating amount of forest due to deforestation and land conversion. An estimated 420 million hectares of forest has been lost since 1990, with 10 million hectares deforested between 2015 and 2020 [1]. Various ways to tackle deforestation and ensure sustainable usage of forests and its materials have been developed, with FSC being but one example. FSC, stands for ‘Forest Stewardship Council’, a global forest certification system with two key components: forest management and chain of custody.

You might have seen the FSC label on many products before, but not realised what it meant. In order to be FSC certified, and thus allowed to label products with the logo, a business or manufacturer has to comply with 10 principles that ensure the sustainable use and management of forests as well as ensuring good working conditions for workers, and consideration for local communities [2]. The label is a way for consumers to easily and efficiently identify forest products including wood and paper that have sustainable production chains and helps to ensure the maintenance and recovery of forests for future generations. This allows the consumer to make more informed decisions about the origin of the products they buy to reduce deforestation and unsustainable practises within the industry, whilst allowing companies to continue making profits but in ways that do not impede nature.

There are 3 type of FSC labels currently [3]:

  • FSC 100%: all the materials in the products are sourced from forests that have been audited by a third party to confirm that are managed in accordance to FSCs environmental and social standards.

  • FSC Mix: made using a mixture of materials from FSC certified forests, including recycled material and controlled wood.

  • FSC Recycled: made from 100% recycled content to help alleviate the pressure of demand on sources of virgin materials

This approach to tackling deforestation is known as market environmentalism, a way to improve environmental quality using market incentives, economic instruments and private governance [4]. The FSC certification is a voluntary approach for businesses and thus relies on the assumption that businesses will want to be FSC certified to improve their ‘green’ reputation and influence consumer decisions.

However, how effective is this technique? Whilst the stewardship has improved awareness of forest management and encouraged the wider public to think more about which products they buy through highlighting the social and environmental factors embedded within products, the FSC is not without its drawbacks.

For example, the certification is voluntary, thus there is disparity amongst nations, with implementation of the certification mainly distributed in developed countries as developing countries often lack the infrastructures to enable certification [5]. Furthermore, FSC remain powerless on manufacturers who do not have sustainable logging chains. If there is a particularly destructive forest management taking place, FSC do not have the capacity to force them to become more sustainable and follow their principles. Lastly, the label can only influence sustainable decision making if consumers know what the label represents. Therefore, greater awareness and education on what FSC certification is needed so that the public can make more informed decisions. Extended awareness for businesses is also needed to inform them on the added benefits of becoming FCS certified to encourage wider involvement in the mechanism.

Therefore, the FSC certification has helped ensure the long-term sustainable management of forests and production chains and enables consumers to make more informed decisions about the products that they buy. However, its effectiveness as an environmental mechanism is contingent on businesses wanting to partake in the certification, having the capacity and infrastructure to do so, and on consumers being aware of what the labels represent.

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[1] http://www.fao.org/state-of-forests/en

[2] https://www.fsc-uk.org/en-uk/about-fsc/what-is-fsc/fsc-principles

[3] https://www.fsc-uk.org/en-uk/about-fsc/what-is-fsc/fsc-labels

[4] https://www.perc.org/free-market-environmentalism/

[5] Pattberg, P. H. (2005) ‘The Forest Stewardship Council: Risk and Potential of Private Forest Governance’ Journal of Environment and Development, Vol.14 (3), p. 356-374

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