Behind the eco labels: Forestry Stewardship Council

| 1st April 2007
One of the major causes of rainforest destruction and biodiversity loss in tropical zones is the illegal logging of hardwoods. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, broadly speaking, exists to address this by promoting environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.

FSC accreditation certifies wood against 10 basic criteria that include the environmental, social and economic impacts of the forest industry. Biodiversity is encouraged and the legal and customary rights of indigenous peoples to own, use and manage their lands is recognised. Workers on FSC schemes have the right to organise.

Because the principles of the scheme are very general, loopholes can be exploited. For instance, although genetic engineering is not allowed, clear-cutting, use of chemicals (including herbicides) and preservation of old-growth forests are only addressed in a general way, without specific requirements.

Labels on FSC-certified products sometimes include a statement regarding the percentage of FSC wood in the product. However, the FSC label standards have shifted since the programme began. For example, prior to February 2000, chip and fibre products had to contain at least 70 per cent FSC-certified wood to qualify for the label. In February 2000, the minimum dropped to 30 per cent, only to be raised again in 2005 to 50 per cent. Drastic changes to standards like this can mislead consumers.

Last year, organisations from eight different countries requested the FSC withdraw certificates awarded to a number of large-scale tree plantation companies in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Ireland, South Africa, Spain and Uruguay. The organisations said the certifications violated the FSC’s mandate of promoting ‘environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world’s forests’.

The Ecologist says

A recent comparison of forestry certification programmes concluded that FSC is probably still the best of the existing labels. When buying wood products in particular, beware of cheap goods that are not meant to last. Consider also natural products that are wood-free. Best of all, buy second-hand furniture – apart from meaning no new trees need to be cut down, if the furniture has lasted a few years, it’s already proved its durability and should last a fair few more years, too.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist May 2007

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