Founded in 1993, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international member-led organization that sets the FSC standards for responsible forest management and chain of custody.
FSC forest management certification confirms that the forest is being managed in a way that benefits the lives of local people and workers and preserves biological diversity while ensuring it sustains economic viability.
Textile production is often responsible for massive deforestation, destruction of ecosystems, and carbon emissions.
Sustainable forest management is necessary to improve the eco-friendliness of man-made cellulosic fibers made from wood such as viscose rayon, modal, lyocell, and acetate.
The FSC is currently working with key players in the industry to achieve complete certified textile supply chains and allow FSC labels on apparel.
Any forest operation must adhere to ten principles before it can receive FSC forest management certification. FSC developed these principles to be relevant to all kinds of forest ecosystems and applicable worldwide.
They ensure the monitoring of forest management environmental and social impacts, as well as high conservation values to community relations and workers’ rights.
FSC forest management criteria
FSC has developed a set of ten principles and 70 criteria that apply to FSC certified forests around the world.
The FSC certification guarantees the following ten principles:
- Compliance with all applicable laws, regulations, and nationally-ratified international treaties, conventions, and agreements
- Maintenance or enhancement of the social and economic well-being of workers
- Identification and protection of indigenous peoples’ legal and customary rights of ownership, use, and management of land, territories, and resources
- Maintenance or enhancement of the social and economic well-being of local communities
- Efficient management of products and services to maintain or enhance long term economic viability and environmental and social benefits
- Maintenance, conservation, and restoration of ecosystem services and environmental values and mitigation of negative environmental impacts
- An up-to-date management plan consistent with its policies and objectives and proportionate to scale, intensity and risks
- Monitored and evaluated progress, impacts, and condition proportionate to the scale, intensity and risk
- High conservation values by applying the precautionary approach
- Management activities consistent with economic, environmental and social policies and objectives
The FSC principles apply worldwide to all kinds of forest ecosystems, as well as a wide range of cultural, political, and legal settings. They apply to all tropical, temperate, boreal forests, plantations, and partially replanted forests.
FSC designs standards mainly for forest management for timber products. But they are also relevant to non-timber products and environmental services, such as air and carbon sequestration and clean water.
Most FSC certified products received one of the following three labels:
- FSC 100%: all materials come from FSC-certified well-managed forests.
- FSC RECYCLED: the product contains 100% recycled content (either post-consumer or pre-consumer reclaimed materials).
- FSC MIX: the product contains a mixture of materials from FSC-certified forests, recycled materials, or FSC controlled wood.
Small or low-intensity managed forests (SLIMF) can benefit from reduced costs and efforts of the certification through streamlined requirements and auditing procedures.
Small forests are generally 100 ha or smaller or up to 1000 ha if formally proposed by an FSC-accredited national initiative.
Low-intensity managed forests have a rate of harvesting lower than 20% of the mean annual increment (MAI) within the total production forest area, and either the annual harvest is less than 5000 m3, or the average annual harvest is less than 5000 m3 per year during the period of validity of the certificate.
What is the FSC forest management certification?
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an independent, not for profit, non-governmental organization based in Bonn, Germany, founded in 1993, as a follow-up to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro, 1992).
FSC develops, supports, and promotes international, national, and regional standards.
It also evaluates, accredits, and monitors certification bodies that verify the use of FSC standards, provides training and information, as well as promotes the use of FSC certified products.
FSC forest management certification helps managers and owners address sustainability issues of their exploitations to preserve natural resources.
It guarantees the responsible and sustainable manufacturing of timber products and the long-term viability of many forests with positive social and environmental impacts.
FSC also provides several criteria relating to ten principles to set out the global requirements for responsible forest management.
The FSC Principles and Criteria require the addition of indicators that reflect the diverse legal, social, and geographical conditions of forests in different parts of the world.
Chamber-balanced standard development groups (SDG) adjust International Generic Indicators at the regional or national level and incorporate the adjustment into National Forest Stewardship Standards.
The aim of FSC certification
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) aims to support environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world's forests.
FSC envisions a world where forests meet the social, ecological, and economic rights and needs of the present generation without jeopardizing those of future generations.
It promotes the true value of forests, improved forest management, and market transformation.
FSC wants forests to be widely recognized and fully incorporated into society worldwide. It encourages sustainable use, conservation, restoration, and respect for all.
FSC addresses issues such as global warming, deforestation, and illegal logging while alleviating poverty and promoting economic development. It has positive effects on environmental conservation and social and political empowerment.
Sustainable forest management benefits both local and wider communities and contributes to reducing the effects of climate change.
The FSC label applies to timber and non-timber products. Paper, packaging, and furniture are common applications of FSC certification.
You can also found FSC labels in medicine, homeware, and fashion, including clothing, shoes, accessories, and jewelry.
What does FSC certified mean?
When an item is labeled FSC certified, it means that the wood used in the product and the manufacturer that made it met the requirements of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
The FSC certification is one the best standard for responsible forestry. It indicates that the raw timber material comes from socially beneficial, environmentally conscious, economically viable, and sustainably managed forests.
According to FSC, forests cover 30% of the global land area on Earth. And the world’s forests store 283 billion tons of carbon in their biomass currently.
Conscious consumers buy products labeled FSC certified to support the conservation of the world's forests.
Biodiversity in natural forests in South American, Asian, and African countries could disappear within a decade at the current rate of deforestation.
Without FSC certified forest management, the world's most valuable rainforests will disappear. It matters because 80% of terrestrial species and 300 million people live in forests, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
"Look for the label that says FSC when you buy paper towels, tissues, furniture, or any other forest products. It’s one of the easiest things you can do to help save the world’s forests. It means that the product you buy comes from a forest that is responsibly managed. Trees in these forests are grown and harvested according to a robust set of guidelines that, ultimately, benefit the environment, the economy, people, and wildlife."
- World Wildlife Fund (WWF), FSC co-founder
FSC forest management certification is a voluntary process open to forest owners or representatives of a group of forest owners and operators.
Upon request, an independent certifier inspects the forest management and verifies that it meets the FSC requirements, in compliance with the FSC principles and criteria.
Companies that buy finished and FSC-labelled products, as well as organizations that use, but do not sell, FSC-certified products can apply for an FSC promotional license.
Brands, retailers, media organizations, or educational institutions are examples of businesses that use FSC-certified products and may want to promote this achievement.
"FSC certification provides credibility and consistency to our sustainability strategy. [...] We believe that it is our responsibility to not only work with our suppliers but with the consumers as well to make them easily understand what a sustainable product is. [...] FSC is one of the major certifications we are working with to make that possible."
- Delia Garcia, Head of Sustainability at El Corte Inglés
The FSC certification process
Companies becoming FSC certified demonstrate compliance with the highest social and environmental standards on the market.
FSC certifying bodies certify and audit each forest management operation. The forest management must be fully compliant with the FSC requirements before it can receive the FSC certification.
Once a forest operation receives an FSC certificate, FSC accredited certification bodies audit the FSC certified forest management once a year.
FSC issues Corrective Action Requests (CARs) whenever a company shows non-compliance with any FSC requirements. The forest must meet required conditions within a determined timeframe, from one year to immediate action.
Businesses wishing to receive FSC certification need to contact FSC certifying bodies that can provide independent and competent evaluation services.
To receive a list of FSC accredited certification bodies, follow the link to search for Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs).
Here is how the FSC certification process looks like step-by-step:
- Contact FSC accredited certification bodies to request quotes.
- Provide contact details and information about the company.
- Make sure you meet the requirements for FSC certification.
- Fill out the certification application form and submit it.
- Pay the application fee and wait for review.
- Sign the contract and non-disclosure agreement.
- Make sure you meet the requirements of the FSC Forest Management or Chain of Custody Standards.
- Read the standard and prepare for the FSC certification audit.
- Meet the auditor after good preparation to reduce the risk of issues.
- Review documents and procedures against the FSC requirements.
- Wait for the audit report and subsequent certification decision.
- Receive an FSC certificate and license codes.
- Implement regular monitoring and prepare for annual audits.
Fashion brands using FSC certified textiles
FSC is one of the best certifications to look for when shopping for environmentally and socially responsible clothing made from renewable resources such as wood.
Many textiles come from logging in forest areas. Every year, 120 million trees are logged to produce fabrics such as rayon, viscose, modal, lyocell, and other trademarked textiles like Tencel, MicroModal, or EcoVero.
If the trend continues, deforestation due to man-made cellulosic fiber production could double by 2025, as stated in Canopy's Hot Button Report.
Look for the FSC certification whenever you buy clothes made from these fabrics as it guarantees high social and environmental standards.
To help you make conscious purchasing decisions as an informed consumer, here are some of the best clothing companies using FSC certified textiles:
- Everlane, a transparent brand offering modern and beautiful essentials, at the best factories, without traditional markups.
- People Tree, a fair trade fashion pioneer, and online garment retailer making clothes from environmentally-friendly materials.
- Stella McCartney, a British apparel brand selling clothing, shoes, bags, and accessories for men, women, and kids.
- Reformation, a fashion label making sustainable women's clothing and accessories.
- Nudie Jeans, a Swedish denim brand, aiming to make the most environmentally friendly jeans with no extra treatment or washes.
- Patagonia, an industry leader in ethical and sustainable active and outerwear.
- prAna, an outdoor brand that creates clothing for positive change, to inspire new generations to thrive and stay active.
- Thought, a clothing brand making classic shirts and dresses from natural and sustainable fabrics.
- Kuyichi, a Dutch style-conscious denim brand, inspiring younger generations to wear organic jeans.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.