The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization that promotes responsible management of the world's forests.
It is widely regarded as one of the most important initiatives to promote responsible forest management worldwide. It places a special emphasis on rainforest conservation.
Launched by environmental groups in 1993 FSC manages an international standard for well-managed forests and a process for tracking and certifying wood furniture, flooring and other products derived from those forests. FSC addresses numerous aspects of sustainable forestry, including ecological issues, old-growth forests, plantations, restoration, biodiversity, native habitat, indigenous people's rights, and sound management for timber production.
FSC certification for furniture is a good indication that the furniture has been independently evaluated and determined sustainable or eco-friendly, but what exactly does that mean?
The FSC label provides certification of the chain of links between the forest where a product originates and the consumer. For example with wood furniture, each of the following businesses involved in transforming a tree into a piece of furniture would have to be FSC certified in order for that furniture piece to be FSC certified:
FSC provides the most rigorous certification process available. It's widely considered the gold standard in sustainable forestry and has moved the world forward in many areas of rainforest conservation.
As you might expect FSC certification involves extensive rule-making and auditing that can be quite expensive to implement. It can add up to 35% to the price of the end product although the hope is that this cost will decrease as FSC certification becomes more mainstream. Still many small manufacturers are unable to assume this cost and are thus not FSC certified.
Another challenge for FSC is the rampant counterfeiting of FSC documentation accompanying raw lumber that is being illegally clear cut from the Amazon and other endangered areas of rainforest. Also FSC has been criticized by certain environmental groups as being too lenient, particularly with their policy allowing limited old growth logging.
In recent years, however the FSC has been under fire from conservation groups like Rainforest Relief and Ecological Internet for alleged lax performance and for certification of the logging of ancient, old-growth, primary rainforests. They criticize FSC for certifying the harvest of ancient trees (often 500 years old or more) in Brazil's Amazon forest and in other ecologically sensitive rainforests habitats around the world. In what could be an impending domino effect, this year the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation resigned from FSC after making several formal complaints that FSC failed to address, regarding FSC certified logging of Swedish old growth forests.
Eco conscious customers are beginning to question the integrity of FSC certification of eco-friendly wood furniture and other forest products. More and more consumers who are concerned about where their wood furniture comes from are wondering if FSC certification is enough. The concern has evolved into a movement towards buying eco-friendly American furniture that is built with sustainably harvested wood from well managed forest lands in the USA.
Supporters of the sustainable American-made furniture movement prefer the use of American wood (whether it is FSC certifed or not) over the use of imported FSC certified wood. They note that in 2008 the volume of American hardwoods was 90 percent larger than it was 50 years ago along with the fact that nearly twice as much hardwood grows in USA forest lands than is harvested every year. These statistics make a statement about the sustainability of wood furniture that originates in American forests that goes far beyond the criteria FSC has laid out for FSC certified wood furniture.
Is FSC certification enough for eco-friendly, sustainable wood furniture? American furniture buyers will be the ones to make that determination.
Authentic FSC certified furniture is a responsible choice for the eco-conscious homeowner. However there are many genuinely responsible, green, eco-friendly furniture makers who are not FSC certified due to the expense involved. Conversely there is a large market of fake, FSC labeled furniture that comes to us through many layers of corruption and counterfeiting.
Your best policy: prior to buying your furniture, be sure to ask your furniture retailer if it is truly sustainable and eco-friendly, regardless of whether it carries the FSC certification. Is it locally made? Where does the wood come from? Is it American wood? What's in the furniture finish? If the retailer cannot answer these questions or does not exude confidence in his or her answers, keep looking until you find someone who does.