Good wood for a good conscience

Sustainable seal: The FSC certification for environmentally sound forest management

For a greener world: For producers of wood and paper products, the FSC seal certifies that their raw materials come from sustainably managed forests.
Photo: Getty Images

From furniture to floorboards to paper, wood is all around us. Wood as a resource has the advantage that it grows back and is, in principle, available forever – as long as it is harvested sustainably.

Forests are often called the lungs of the Earth. Their existence is essential to animal and human life. They store carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, and they regulate the hydrologic balance and positively affect the climate. Furthermore, they are an oasis of calm and relaxation. Whether you go for a walk, pick berries or mushrooms, or watch animals, forests give us space to regenerate.

But forests are also home to great resources. Whether we harvest it for energy, to build houses, or to construct furniture and many other products, wood is one of the oldest raw materials used by man, and the most important renewable resource this day.

To ensure that future generations can also enjoy spruce, larch, and beech in sufficient numbers, a simple rule for managing forests was introduced many centuries ago: Never cut down forests faster than they can regrow. This is the basis of sustainability – a principle that’s as easy as it is effective  At least in theory. In practice, the ongoing, large-scale clearing of rain forests has been making negative headlines since the 1980s.

For many years, an area of forest the size of Bangladesh was cleared every year. Experts estimate that on average, 83 million hectares between 1990 and 2000 and 52 million hectares between 2000 and 2010 were lost annually. In response to this large-scale destruction, numerous national and international organizations were founded with one goal: to protect the rainforests. One of the most successful organizations was and is the Forest Stewardship Council.

Wood is one of the oldest raw materials used by human beings – and the most important renewable resource to this day.

To protect the forests and to promote environmentally and socially sound cultivation methods, the Forest Stewardship Council, founded in 1993, developed a system to certify sustainable forestry management. The idea was that consumers around the world needed to be able to tell quickly if a product was made of sustainably produced wood. The FSC label can now be found on deck chairs and garden furniture, on floorboards, and even on newspapers – if, and only if, the FSC criteria are met. The FSC rules are summarized in a ten-point catalog, and in addition to sustainable forestry, they include minimum standards when it comes to working conditions, protecting local populations, and overall effects on the environment. Wood products pass through many stages of production and processing as they make their way from the forest to the consumer. For this reason, the FSC now offers an additional certificate that monitors the entire chain of supply and production. This FSC “Chain of Custody” (FSC CoC) certificate is meant to ensure that consumers have access to all the relevant information.

TÜV SÜD is one of about 30 certification bodies worldwide that is permitted to award FSC certifications. Sebastian Hetsch manages TÜV SÜD’s global FSC activities, and more than 250 companies in 15 countries have been inspected by TÜV SÜD thus far. “Demand in Asia and Europe is growing especially fast,” reports Hetsch. Before the certification can be awarded, experts will inspect the entire supply and production chain of woodworking companies, including sawmills and planing mills, joiners and furniture makers, carpentries, printers, and even publishing houses and bookbinders. The audits focus on inspecting the labeling of logs, lumber, and inventories, on examining the facilities, and on reviewing various work and administrative processes. If everything conforms to the FSC guidelines, the company is awarded the internationally recognized FSC CoC certificate, which is valid for five years.

Photo: iStockphoto