FSC Certified Wood: What It Is and Why It Matters
This post is generously sponsored by FSC-Canada.
When you've been out shopping, have you ever noticed a label with the letters "FSC" on wooden planks, furniture, or on your favourite orange juice carton? Have you wondered what it actually means? If your answer is "yes,” you're in the right place! Because today, at The Eco Hub, I'll be explaining what FSC is, what this label entails, and even which products can be FSC-certified (spoiler alert: you'll be surprised at how many can be!).
So sit back, grab a pen and paper (or open your note-taking app of choice) and keep scrolling — it's time to learn about the absolute BEST eco-friendly certification is — not just for wood, but also for paper and other forest-based products (like rubber) as well!!
What is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)?
Before we get into what the FSC certification entails or which products can be certified, let's start from the very basics: what does FSC stand for?
FSC® stands for Forest Stewardship Council®, an international nonprofit organization that promotes responsible management of the world's forests. They are supported by both international environmental and social NGOs (such as the WWF, Greenpeace Canada, and CPAWS), as well as many of the world’s biggest and most progressive brands (IKEA, L’Oréal Paris, Sézane, etc.). So basically, they’re the real deal when it comes to sustainable forestry.
FSC is important because our forests are important. In addition to their undeniable beauty and recreational value, forests are essentially the lungs of our precious Mother Earth. They sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, prevent soil erosion, purify the air we breathe, filter the water we drink and provide necessary habitat for wildlife. Since they are such a crucial factor in the health of global ecosystems, an organization had to be developed to not only protect forests but to improve forest practices worldwide. That's where the FSC enters the picture!
What Does the FSC Do & How Are They Impacting Sustainable Forestry?
In a nutshell, the FSC’s mission is to take care of the forests of the world as well as all the living beings that call these forests home. They make sure these forests are managed in a sustainable way so there will still be plenty of them left for future generations of people and wildlife.
“But how do they take care of the forests of the world?” you may ask. One of the primary ways is through their FSC certification, which has positively impacted sustainable forestry by protecting not only forests and wildlife but also the communities and workers that inhabit and surround them.
Just to give you an example, in 2018, there were around 200.9 million hectares of FSC-certified forests worldwide, and within two years alone, they managed to add 21 million hectares to that figure. In the 2020 FSC Annual Report, they estimated that they achieved 221 million hectares of FSC-certified forests worldwide. They achieve all of this in a transparent, credible, and democratic way, hand in hand with 1,152 members in 89 countries at the time of publication.
And if that wasn't enough, FSC also helps Indigenous communities around the world to ensure sustainable forest management in the areas where they live by protecting their rights, both on public and private lands. Honestly, this represents a ray of hope and relief in the midst of the damage many Indigenous peoples’ homelands are suffering, thanks to deforestation and environmental exploitation by the timber industry and its derivatives. Kudos to the FSC!
Who Founded the FSC & When Was It Formed?
The FSC isn’t a new, trendy company. In fact, they’ve been around for a little over three decades! Their origins date back to 1990 when its founders — a group of concerned timber consumers, traders and representatives of environmental organizations — met in California to see how they could help stop deforestation and environmental degradation.
As a result of this meeting, they brainstormed the brilliant idea that a system was needed that could:
- identify well-managed forests in a credible and independent way
- establish them as the source for sustainable wood products
- change the landscape of sustainable forestry for the longterm
Thus, at that meeting, the name and concept of the FSC were approved.
However, it's worth noting that it wasn't until 1993 that the idea of a worldwide certification system was supported globally, after intensive consultations in ten different countries. The whole thing was officially established that same year at the FSC Founding Assembly in Toronto — finally!
What Are the FSC Requirements?
Now that you know what FSC means and what they stand for, let's dig deeper into the certification itself and learn more about its requirements. According to their website, the requirements to obtain the FSC certificate are divided into five practical steps:
- Contact FSC accredited certification bodies (and/or small business group schemes if appropriate) to request quotes
- Submit a certification application to the FSC certification body of the applicant’s choice
- Ensure that an appropriate FM (Forest Management) / CoC (Chain of Custody) or CoC Management System is in place.
- Undergo an on-site audit by the applicant’s chosen certification body
- Gain certification approval
Along with these 5 steps, companies must meet their standards and rules in order to be approved and must comply with all 10 of these principles before being approved.
And, of course, the materials used by the applicant to manufacture its products can't be sourced illegally, using any practices that violate human rights or from a forest with genetically modified trees. The process of obtaining the certificate is long and a bit complicated, but that’s precisely how the FSC has remained at the top of forestry certifications as the most reliable one.
What Does the FSC Label On A Product Mean?
In short, the fact that the FSC seal is on a product guarantees that the material used in its production comes from sustainably managed forests. However, not all products have the same label. Each product may have one of the three different FSC labels depending on the origin of its materials (keep scrolling to find out which ones!). But essentially, if a product has the approval of this gold standard, it means you can trust it. (P.S. FSC Canada now has a curated website that makes it super easy to shop FSC-Certified products.)
Differentiating Between FSC Labels
The work behind FSC certification is rigorous and involves several factors, but in order to make it easier for consumers to easily identify the products and know the origin and composition of the materials used to manufacture them, the FSC created three different labels:
- FSC 100%: all the wood, fiber, or material in the product comes from FSC-certified forests, a.k.a FSC virgin fibers.
- FSC recycled: as the name implies, it means that the product is made purely from recycled materials, either pre- or post-consumer reclaimed wood, materials, or fibers.
- FSC MIX: all the materials in the product comes from a mix of FSC virgin fibers and controlled virgin fibers (which, while not sourced from FSC certified forests, reduce the risk of the material being sourced irresponsibly) or recycled material.
What Is FSC Certified Wood?
FSC Certified Wood guarantees the customer that the wooden (or wood-derived) products purchased have been obtained from responsibly managed sources from an economic, social, and environmental point of view. In fact, it not only ensures that the purchase of wooden products hasn't contributed to the devastation of forests but also guarantees that the communities near them are consulted, among other benefits that will be discussed later in the post.
Additionally, the FSC Certified Wood goes hand in hand with the CoC Certification (Chain of Custody Certification), which makes traceability of wood and its derivatives from sustainably managed forests possible at all stages of processing, i.e., from forest to shelf. This traceability is based on monitoring the sourcing of the material, its identification, and subsequent separation from non-certified and uncontrolled materials, all the way to the finished and transformed product.
Is the FSC Certification Mandatory?
A product doesn’t need to obtain this certification. However, it can be a great advantage over its competitors. First, because its manufacturers are being environmentally responsible, and that in itself increases the value of their products. And second, because they're proving to their customers that their commitment to forest sustainability is real. Today's consumers are increasingly looking for information about the sustainability of the products they buy—myself included—so as a brand, it's a big plus to ensure that their products don't contribute to deforestation.
In fact, this was proven by a study by Globescan, which revealed clear results across 13 different countries: over 80% of the customers interviewed stated that it's of utmost importance for brands that produce wood products to ensure their environmental responsibility towards forests. Therefore, we can affirm that although the FSC certification is not mandatory, it surely is a big plus.
Suppose a brand or retailer decides to buy FSC-labeled products created by an FSC-certified company and sell them to final customers. In that case, it can apply for a promotional license from FSC. This allows them to carry the label and promote products using the FSC logo, without going through the FSC certification process themselves.
What Purchasing FSC-Certified Furniture Does For the Environment & People
Making a decision as seemingly trivial as choosing one piece of furniture over another is actually not trivial at all. While it's impossible for anyone to ultimately end deforestation, by choosing FSC-certified furniture over non-FSC-certified furniture, you'll be doing your part to support a variety of environmental benefits.
The benefits of buying FSC-certified furniture go hand in hand with the organization's standards to:
- protect forests and wildlife
- identify and uphold Indigenous peoples' rights
- maintain or enhance the social and economic well-being of workers and local communities
- protect the existence of the Woodland Caribou.
Who would've thought that such a seemingly simple act as buying a piece of furniture would help safeguard so many areas of our environment?
Do Products Made Out of FSC-Certified Wood Cost More?
Products made out of FSC certified wood tend to be in the same price range as those that aren't certified. You also have to take into account the fact that non-FSC suppliers may discount their products to compete with FSC suppliers, but it really depends on the market landscape, the availability of the products, and the length of the supply chain. Also, when shopping, it never hurts to compare prices for the same product between local and online stores!
Where to Find FSC-Certified Furniture
If you didn't know about this certification before and didn't have in mind how its labels looked, you'll definitely begin to spot them everywhere now! Whether you're looking for garden furniture, nightstands, or chairs, you can find FSC-certified furniture at your nearest, West Elm, Crate & Barrel or Rona. IKEA makes all of its products from FSC wood, but you will notice that they don’t label it as such.
But before you make any purchases, did you know that in addition to the FSC logo, each FSC label has a license code? That's right! Just make sure that when you search for "FSC furniture,” you find in the product description that license code formed by the acronym "FSC,” followed by a letter plus six numbers (e.g. FSC-C000000). If you don't find it, close that tab! You could get scammed.
Bonus tip: That license code is not on the label or in the product description just so that the FSC can keep track of who has their certificate, but also so that you as a buyer can verify on their website if the certificate is valid in a matter of seconds. Just enter the number in their database, press “search,” and that’s it!
You can also use shopFSC.ca to search for FSC-Certified furniture and other products.
Where To Find Certified Wood for DIY Home Projects
If you've already purchased your FSC-certified nightstand but now want to dabble in the world of DIY wood projects, you’ll be happy to know that there many options for purchasing materials. You can likely find certified wood in your local DIY or hardware store. But If you're looking for a specific recommendation, West Wind Hardwood has FSC softwoods, FSC hardwoods, and even FSC exotics in their catalogue.
Also, the FSC website features a user-friendly search engine to help you find certified wood for DIY projects, distribution, or professional architecture. All you have to do is select what type of buyer you are, what products you need, and where you need them. Believe me—this tool will make your search as easy as ABC!
Other Products That Can Be FSC-Certified
In addition to wood, many other materials such as paper, rubber, bamboo, and even fabrics like lyocell and modal also come from forests. Let’s take a look at some of them:
Other Non-Furniture Wood Products
If cooking is your hobby and you’re ready to replace your old, cracked cutting board, don't worry. At Teakhaus you can get durable and beautiful FSC-certified cutting boards that you'll love to have in your kitchen.
This is just a small taste of what you can find on the sustainable market, but in reality, there are countless products made out of FSC-certified materials. You're just a click away from finding anything you're looking for, but FSC-certified!
Books, calendars, paper towels, sketchbooks, toilet paper, you name it, FSC-certified paper is everywhere, both recycled and virgin.
You can find notebooks, print paper, and more FSC-certified paper products at Staples, and you'll probably even find some certified toilet paper rolls at your local supermarket. But if you want to get a better idea of what certified papers are out there, there's a list on the FSC's website. Go check it out!
Although rubber is used in many items in our everyday lives, when not handled responsibly, this elastic material can have serious negative impacts on the environment, such as deforestation of Hevea (the rubber tree) plantations in South and Southeast Asia, as well as labour exploitation. This problem continues to worsen as the global demand for natural rubber grows. Still, in order to correct such negative impacts, some brands are opting to use only FSC-certified rubber (which is deforestation-free and socially responsible) to manufacture sandals, rain boots, gloves, and even wetsuits.
Speaking of wetsuits, Patagonia — an outdoor clothing and gear brand that I've already mentioned many times in previous posts — sells wetsuits made of natural rubber from FSC-certified Hevea trees, which they named Yulex®. This brand keeps surprising me more and more with its efforts to fight fast fashion, and I love it!
Pandas love bamboo, and so do I! This amazing tree consumes more CO2 than a lot of other trees, reduces soil erosion (thanks to its large underground stems), and even conserves water during dry seasons in its hollow stem. It's a very valuable tree, which is why in the bamboo field, you can find almost anything FSC-certified, from toothbrushes, cups, and kitchen utensils made from bamboo, to bamboo flooring and panels.
The Future Is Bamboo is a Canadian brand of eco-friendly products that, as its name suggests, focuses mainly on manufacturing home, oral and personal care products with FSC-certified bamboo, claiming that this material is the future of sustainability. If you ask me, I think one of their best products is the rainbow bamboo toothbrushes — the little ones at home would love them for sure!
Other Cellulosic Fibers Such As Lyocell and Modal
As you may already know from previous posts, TENCEL™ lyocell (made from the wood pulp of eucalyptus trees) and modal (made from reconstituted cellulose from beech trees) are excellent man-made alternatives to synthetic fibers.
It's no surprise that Patagonia has been making warm-weather garments from FSC-certified TENCEL™ lyocell, but there are also other brands that have made garments from certified cellulosic fibers. Officine Générale is one of them; they use Italian FSC-certified modal to make dresses and tops.
If you want to know more about FSC certified brands and products in Canada, feel free to visit their “Featured Products” section on the organization’s website — there are even guitars made entirely from FSC-certified wood!
Next time you’re in the market for a new piece of furniture, be on the lookout for the FSC-certified seal!
If sustainability is important to you when you revamp your living room or your bedroom with new bookshelves or desks, definitely look for the FSC-certified seal. That way, you'll always be sure you're buying products that meet one of the world's highest environmental standards while having the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of the forests in mind.
Saving our Mother Earth from the hard times she finds herself in may seem out of our hands, but in reality, we, as her inhabitants, have the power to make ethical and sustainable choices in almost every single thing we do. I mean, purchasing new furniture is a really exciting activity by itself, but imagine how it feels to do it while also making sure you're helping the planet!