Monday, June 6, 2011

Forest Stewarship Council-a stamp of sustainability and a lot of work!

As I flip through my papers and notes to write this post a few thoughts come into mind. As a scientist and one who has spent time looking over and preparing project plans for carbon offsets, the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) makes perfect sense. It would be foolish to strike out without a plan-sure there'll always be those things that we don't think of until afterwards, but that's what a council is for-always brainstorming and creating a living document of input. The recipe looks right: goals, monitoring, quality assurance, stakeholder opinions (and opinions sought for those who don't even know know or care that their lives may be changed by decisions). It is a nice process. Then, in the blink of an eye you try to comprehend what it is you are trying to manage-a complex ecosystem. Premise #1 for the science behind adaptive ecosystem management: Both science and society are influenced by individual and societal values that are sometimes recognized but often forgotten (Maser, 1994).

So, do you want to know what this FSC stamp is that you see on all revered paper and wood products? What makes manufacturers pay those extra bucks for certified material? Let's start with a few factoids....

The Forestry Stewardship Council was created in 1993 and is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder (ie., partner) organization and membership whose main purpose is to improve forest management, chain-of-custody, and serve as an accreditation to management sustainable ttechniques. Remember in the last post, if you want to know for certain where your timber products come from and that they follow a sustainable standard-FSC is an option. Not the only option, but the most recognized. FSC covers all forest types (including natural and plantation forests) and includes strategies for social benefitts and economic viability (the three interdependent pieces of sustainability). The FSC process ensures that the harvest of timber and non-timber maintains biodiversity, productivity, and ecological processes.

Some stats (for those who like em): There are 81 countries that have certified FSC projects, 143 million hectares, and a total of 1,041 certifications (, accessed 5.24.11). North American holds 38% of the certificates (with Canada holding more over the US) and the EU 43%. Most certifications are made in the Boreal forest type (49%), followed by temperate (37.7%) and tropical (12.4%).  So how does this process really ensure sustainability??

The core of the council are guidelines and documents, frameworks for how timber managers and industries can ensure that their forests ecosystems (including wildlife and human inhabitants) are treated in a sound manner to ensure future growth, quality of life, and profit. The root of which are 10 principles:
-Compliance with laws and standards (respecting the law)
-Demonstrated, clearly defined long-term tenure and use rights to the land and forest resources (in other words, legally stating that you plan on a long-term land commitment for managing a forest a certain way)
-Recognition and respect of indigenous people
-Maintenance and long-term social and economic well being of working communities and rights
-Equal use and sharing benefits from the forest (avoiding dependence on a single forest product)
-Reducing the impact of logging and maintaining ecological functions (ie. accessing environmental impacts)
-Continuously updating the management plan (silvicultural and/or other management system and rationale
-Monitoring and assessing conditions (yield of products harvested, growth rates and regeneration, composition and observed changes in forest, cost, productivity, and efficiency of management).
-Maintenance of high conservation value forests (key species-not just trees-but flora and fauna)
-Plantations must contribute to reduce pressures on and promote restoration and conservation of natural forests.

Those guidelines sound simple and common sense enough, but to acheve the stamp of approval (literally), one has to go through a third party verification and certification that you have met these 10 principles. A certification is an audit of forest management operations in this case. It is a yearly process that is transparent. The FSC process is based on the ISEAL Alliance Code of Good Practice. The first time I read, " Assessing the Impacts of Environmental Standards Systems v1.0 (2010). I thought to myself, no-duh! Then I found myself wanting this document as a reference at work-I mean we all know how to start a plan, but this details it and is a good checklist. I found myself telling my coworkers about it and referencing it for definitions. In simple, it's project plan-you define your scope, define roles and responsibilities, make sure your people are trained, and literally go through a checklist to ensure that you haven't forgotten (or tried not to until v.2) or accounted for a potential impact that could influence long-term management. It really gets nitty-gritty down to data collection, processing, and reporting. It shows you understand the breadth of impact analysis and structure. If you want to know more about the FSC, go to

Manufacturers often choose to select products that have either directly been purchased or procured though a company that is certified through the process described above or through a company who can trace their product back over it's lifespan and has been followed and checked off along the way that it follows the standards (chain-of-custody-including processing, transformations, manufacturing, and distribution).

Forestry includes six fundamentals- soil, water, sunlight, biodiversity, and climate. Ecosystems are complex-are another blog post (and course for that fact) alone. The FSC management process is just one way to organize and ensure sustainability. Do you know if your board is made with FSC-certified wood? Do you care? You'll probably pay more for it, because think about the work that goes into tracing and ensuring it's origin. If it matters to you, chances are you're willing to pay more.