How does FSC compare to other forest certification schemes?

FSC Certified Logs (© Elie Hakizumwami)© Elie HakizumwamiSince FSC was founded in 1993, forest certification has become a significant market mechanism to promote responsible forest management. Despite the worldwide proliferation of forest certification schemes in recent years, FSC is one of only two global forest certification schemes. Disparities between forest certification schemes can be identified with regards to standards, consistency, transparency, means of verification and in the degree to which governance is open to different stakeholders.

FSC is recognised by WWF as the “hallmark of responsible forest management” and stands out from other forest management schemes in numerous ways, such as:


Means of verification

ISEAL Alliance Membership
The ISEAL Alliance establishes codes of good practice that guide the owners of social and environmental certification schemes on the development of effective assurance mechanisms. ISEAL builds an understanding of good practices for standards systems and sets internationally applicable good practice guidance for the implementation of credible standards systems. These Codes of Good Practice are applied by leading standards systems and compliance is an ISEAL membership requirement. Both FSC and FSC’s Accreditation Body, ASI, are members of ISEAL Alliance and FSC is externally reviewed for compliance with the ISEAL requirements. FSC is the only forest certification scheme to have attained ISEAL Alliance membership.

ISO Standards
The FSC system’s assurance mechanism is based on relevant ISO Standards such as the ISO Guide 65 (which has now been replaced by ISO 17065) for product certification, ISO 17021 for management system certification and ISO 17011 for accreditation of certification bodies.

FSC’s Accreditation Body, ASI, also operates according to ISO 17011, which is seen as the highest international standard for accreditation bodies.

The ability of certification schemes to ensure enforcement of the requirements in the field, if not adhering to ISO standards or if purely relying on ISO standards without a commitment to follow the ISEAL requirements for social and environmental labelling systems, must be questioned.

Forest Certification Assessment Guide (FCAG)
WWF and the World Bank have jointly developed an analytical framework for the evaluation of forest certification systems, the Forest Certification Assessment Guide (FCAG), allowing analysis of forest certification systems for their compliance with a number of principles thereby enabling an assessment of the quality and credibility of certification schemes. Analysis carried out using the FCAG has concluded that FSC best meets WWF's core requirements, being recognised for:

  • driving significant improvements in forest management on the ground;
  • meeting (as a minimum) WWF's core values on meaningful and equitable participation of all major stakeholder groups, reliable and independent assessment, certification decisions free of conflicts of interest, transparency in decision making and reporting; and
  • delivering consistency across countries.

Standards

FSC is the only forest certification scheme endorsed by the major environmental Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), including WWF, Greenpeace and The Woodland Trust. In the “Forests and the European Union Resource Network” (FERN) report of 2004, eight forest certification schemes were assessed in which FSC emerged as the only scheme credible to NGOs. This conclusion was drawn for numerous reasons including the observation that FSC is the only scheme that demands a truly performance-based minimum threshold for forest management practices before a national standard can be endorsed.

WWF recognises that FSC’s environmental criteria conserve biological diversity and its values; maintain the ecological functions and integrity of the forest; protect threatened and endangered species and their habitats. WWF also recognises that FSC’s social benefits ensures human rights for communities and forest workers; that forestry operations must seek permission from indigenous groups before forestry work can begin; that local people who traditionally used the forest must still have access to the forest resources that support their livelihoods.

FSC…
- prohibits the conversion of natural forests
- prohibits the use of highly hazardous pesticides
- prohibits the cultivation of genetically modified trees (GMOs)
- respects the right of indigenous peoples
- controls each certified operation at least once a year – and if they are found not to comply, the certificate is withdrawn

Independent reports have concluded that although other forest management schemes and standards will make a contribution to the promotion of responsible forestry, the FSC scheme has been found to be the most robust. FSC’s policy on Controlled Wood illustrates how FSC’s system is more stringent than other schemes.

FSC allows the inclusion of uncertified wood into FSC labeled products carrying an ‘FSC Mix’ claim, as long as it has been risk assessed using mechanisms in place to exclude sources deemed “unacceptable”, a procedure also practiced by other certification schemes. An independent report has concluded that wood certified to other standards cannot automatically fulfill the requirements of FSC Controlled Wood due to various reasons including the emphasis on legality at the cost of other factors. If a certification scheme solely specifies that wood must not come from ‘illegal or unauthorised harvesting’, there is a risk of inclusion of wood from the conversion of natural forests to plantations or other land-uses, or wood harvested from areas where Indigenous Peoples’ rights may be violated as long as these activities are legal in the country of origin – this would be unacceptable within the FSC system, demonstrating the stringency of FSC’s Standards.


Consistency

Global Applicability
FSC surpasses other forest certification schemes in its global applicability. FSC’s consistent and centralised approach means that its Forest Management Standard can be applied throughout the world, which compares favourably to the forest certification approach of endorsing national schemes, resulting in forest owners only being eligible for certification if they are located in countries where an endorsed national scheme exists. FSC’s approach also means that the FSC label symbolises a consistent global approach epitomised by FSC’s 10 Principles of Forest Management, in comparison to the labels of other schemes, which would not allow differentiation between the more stringent and less stringent national schemes that may be endorsed.

One Global Accreditation Body
FSC is the only global forest certification scheme to use only one global accreditation body: Accreditation Services International (ASI), which monitors all accredited FSC certification bodies and therefore allows a consistent enforcement of the requirement on a global scale. In contrast to national accreditation, international accreditation is considered to be a better model for social and environmental standards systems for numerous reasons, including the ability to build greater expertise in evaluating assurance in specific sectors and ensuring greater consistency and credibility. Although national accreditation will be most veritable in countries with low levels of corruption and high levels of law enforcement, the impartiality and accuracy of national accreditation must be questioned when carried out in contrary circumstances.

FSC’s Accreditation Body and Certification Bodies are Set Specific Requirements
FSC sets specific requirements for its accreditation body and certification bodies, which has been commended and the lack of which has resulted in criticism for other forest certification systems. FSC has developed a series of eight comprehensive accreditation standards with specific requirements for certification bodies such as general requirements, stakeholder consultation, forest management and chain of custody evaluation, public summaries, and evaluation of FSC Controlled Wood. Independent research has highlighted the lack of scheme specific requirements for certification bodies within other certification schemes.


Transparency

Public Summaries of forest management certification reports
FSC requires public summaries of forest management certification reports, controlled wood certification reports (FSC-STD-30-010) as well as summaries of risk assessments conducted according to FSC-STD-40-005 to be published on the FSC database. FSC has established specific requirements for the minimum content of these public summaries. The reports can be accessed here: http://info.fsc.org/ - once you have searched for the organisation in question, please click on the entry and then click on ‘reports’.

Public Summaries of forest management accreditation audit reports
FSC’s accreditation body, ASI, publishes public summaries of FSC certification body forest management accreditation audit reports on their homepage, which can be accessed here. ASI’s Procedure on Surveillance & Sampling can be accessed here.

Transparent Dispute Resolution Process
FSC’s Dispute Resolution Process aims for maximum transparency. Complaints related to the Policy for the Association of Organisations with FSC (FSC-POL-01-004 V2-0 EN) are always made public (summary, statements and background documents). If a complaint generates a high level of enquiries, a stakeholder update is likely to be written and distributed and may also feature on the FSC website, although information that is confidential or that may be physically harmful for a complainant or defendant will not be published. Information can be requested for all other complaints. Ongoing and closed disputes featured on the FSC website can be viewed here.

FSC’s policies regarding publically available information compares favourably with other certification schemes and ensures transparency of decision making, enabling stakeholders to make a judgement on the quality of the certification and accreditation processes.

Public Consultation as part of Standard Development
The process to develop, review and revise normative documents (standards, policies and procedures) is comprehensive, transparent, inclusive and robust, aiming to promote stability and predictability within the FSC system. FSC is committed to public consultations as part of standard development. Further information on FSC standard setting can be found here.

Public announcement of audits
ASI’s previous and upcoming witness audits of certification bodies are publically announced and can be viewed here. Stakeholder input for these assessments is encouraged and enabled through the ASI website.

Certification Bodies also publically announce the audits of Certificate Holders – details of these can be found on the individual Certification Body websites. Please click here for details of FSC accredited certification bodies.


Governance

FSC has a truly unique governance system which strives to ensure that economic, environmental and social interests are balanced. FSC operates on a three-chamber structure with members representing their interests in one of the three interest groups. General Assemblies take place every three years and decisions are reached through a voting system. The voting procedures ensure that no one interest group can dominate.

The participation of FSC’s stakeholder groups is meaningful and equitable and ensures multi-stakeholder participation in standard setting.


CONCLUSIONS

FSC strives for continual development and improvement, which is enabled through the systems in place for evaluating the performance and impact of the scheme as well as the transparency and decision making processes in place.

It has been independently documented that the FSC system best meets the expectations required from a global social and environmental labelling system.

WWF sees the FSC standard as the only viable one for promoting responsible forest management and it recommends the FSC system to consumers, forest managers, policymakers and businesses.


References

Feilberg, Peter; Hain, Hando; Sloth, Christian & van Boven-Flier, Debora (May 2012): NepCon Report (funded by FSC international): Comparative analysis of the PEFC system with FSC Controlled Wood requirements

Karmann, Marion & Smith, Alan (April 2009): FSC International Center Report: FSC reflected in scientific and professional literature: literature study on the outcomes and impacts of FSC certification

Renström, Margaret for Worldwide Fund for Nature WWF (2007): Position paper on Forest certification

Walter, Martin (September 2006, Updated August 2008): Forest Certification Assessment Guide (FCAG) Generic Analysis of the FSC and PEFCC International Systems

WWF statement regarding the PEFC Governance Review and the new PEFC Stakeholder Forum (February 2009)



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