What is FSC certification?

What is FSC certification?

Editorial team Published on 7/3/2023

You’ve probably noticed that paper, packaging, books and wooden products often feature the acronym FSC and a logo in the shape of a tree, and perhaps wondered exactly what they refer to. Well, wonder no longer! FSC certification is an environmental scheme that ensures forests are managed responsibly and that covers many products derived from forests, such as paper, wood and pellets.

Today we’d like to tell you more about what FSC certification is, how it came about and how it works!

What is FSC certification: definition

FSC certification is a global voluntary environmental certification scheme issued by a non-governmental organisation, the Forest Stewardship Council  (or FSC for short). The certification is independent, meaning it is managed by a third party – the FSC – which takes into account a range of economic, social and environmental considerations.

FSC certification aims to ensure forests are properly managed and to guarantee the traceability of all products derived from them: any objects or raw materials created from forests, such as paper or the wood used for producing furniture.

FSC certification: managed forests
FSC certification: managed forests

To be more precise, FSC certification is a way to prove that the wood or raw material used in your certified product comes from:

  • Forests that are managed sustainably in environmental, social and economic terms
  • Traceable forests
  • Traceable recycled materials

FSC certification also guarantees that the local communities where the forests are based were respected and that the workers were paid a fair price.

When did FSC certification start?

The Forest Stewardship Council was founded in America in 1993, bringing together environmental groups, businesses, forest owners and other associations interested in forest management. The NGO and its certification scheme therefore have their roots in the discussions that began in the early 1990s on the issue of deforestation. FSC UK was founded in 2001: a non-profit organisation that works to achieve the same goals as FSC International.

Today, the FSC is based in Bonn, Germany, and its label is one of the largest certified supply chains in the world, with over 200 million hectares (500 million acres) of forest managed in accordance with the certification standards.

Who belongs to the Forest Stewardship Council?

The Forest Stewardship Council aims to support environmental, economic and social interests related to forests, and so represents a wide range of different groups.

FSC certification: wood
FSC certification: wood

The FSC has about 1000 members, divided up into three categories with equal voting rights on the council’s decisions. They are:

  • The social chamber: indigenous organisations, trade and labour unions and community groups
  • The environmental chamber: environmental associations and interest groups, such as WWF and Greenpeace, and research centres
  • The economic chamber: businesses that produce wood-derived products, like Tetrapak and IKEA.

Types of FSC certification: forests and traceability of forest products

The Forest Stewardship Council therefore issues and oversees FSC certification to promote sustainable forest management and the fair use of forest resources. There are two types of FSC certification available:

  • FSC forest management certification, which covers the way forests are managed;
  • Chain of custody certification, which covers product traceability, in other words ensuring that products are made from materials from forests managed in accordance with FSC standards.
FSC certification: cardboar
FSC certification: cardboar

So which products can be FSC certified? Answer: anything that comes from a forest! Wood (firewood, wood chips or pellets, for example), timber or products made of wood, such as furniture, and wood-derived products: pulp and paper.

But that’s not all: other forest products can also be certified, including cork, resins and gums, not to mention mushrooms, honey and berries.

FSC-certified paper, for example, guarantees that the pulp and raw materials used to make the product came from forests that comply with the organisation’s environmental standards. So if you see paper with the FSC logo on it, you know that no virgin forest has been cut down and that a balanced ecosystem has been maintained.

FSC labels: 100%, recycled, mix

FSC-certified wood-derived products all carry labels depicting the now famous check-mark tree.

FSC certification: labels
FSC certification: labels

Here are the three types of FSC label you may find on a product:

  • FSC 100%
  • FSC Recycled
  • FSC Mix

FSC 100% certification and the corresponding label are given to products made with raw materials that come exclusively from FSC-certified forests.

FSC Mix certification indicates that at least 70% of the paper (or wood) in the product comes from certified forests.

Finally, FSC Recycled certification guarantees that the material used was recycled or recovered in accordance with particular standards.