Interview with FSC-UK

Rosie Teasdale, Deputy Director at FSC-UK, talks to Kim Corbett

When we began research for our furniture rating label back in 2003 we asked forest campaigners at Greenpeace to identify gaps in our scheme. While they were enthusiastic about the label, they were very clear that the best independent & credible certification scheme was the FSC.

We didn't have even 1 FSC product at the time so we went about looking for interior hardwood products with FSC chain of custody certification. We found very little. A lot has changed since then and now over 40% of what we offer is FSC certified. We commission our own designs in FSC oak and ash and we have two large workshops who have demonstrated their commitment by undertaking FSC certification.

To get a handle of the history and workings of the FSC I asked Rosie a few questions:

Kim: How does the FSC work and how long has it been around?

Rosie: The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification scheme was established in 1993 in response to growing concern about global deforestation and demand for a trustworthy wood-labelling scheme. FSC has developed a system of forest certification and product labelling that allows consumers to identify wood and wood-based products from  well-managed forests.

FSC certified forests are independently audited against FSC’s strict environmental, social and economic standards. The wood, or other products from the forest, is then tracked through the supply chain. Each link in the chain is audited to ensure that non-FSC material is not mixed with the FSC wood or fibre. This gives consumers the confidence that they can buy forest products, safe in the knowledge that they are not supporting deforestation or illegal logging.

Kim: What types of product carry the FSC label? And what should customers know about the label?

Rosie : The label can be found on a wide range of forest products. Most commonly, the label is seen on wood products, such as garden furniture, kitchen utensils and toys and on paper products, such as tissues, books and greetings cards. An increasing number of “non timber forest products” also carry the FSC labeal, including rubber gloves, footballs, essential oils and nuts.

The FSC label on a wood or forest product is your assurance that it is made with, or contains, fibre from FSC certified forests or from post-consumer waste.

Kim: Why is the certification of forest management of natural forests so important?

Rosie: Natural forests throughout the world are threatened by global demand for forest products which will not only continue, but also accelerate. Much of the world’s remaining natural forests still suffer from illegal exploitation, poor management and conversion to other land uses, commonly resulting in severe degradation or complete destruction. In some countries as much as 80% of the timber is harvested illegally, often in violation of human rights and causing destruction of protected forests. A key factor behind the threats faced by natural forests is the perception by many societies that they lack economic value.

FSC certification can offer a financially competitive alternative to poor practice, illegal logging and conversion to other land-uses. The application of the FSC standards can result in substantial social and environmental improvements and ultimately support the conservation and long-term maintenance of these forests. To withdraw from applying the FSC standards to logging in natural forests, would not end further exploration of natural forests, but could, instead, result in unsustainable logging practices and deforestation.

Kim: What does the FSC do to increase the sustainability of the world's forests?

Rosie: In order for a forest to be FSC certified, a management plan must be agreed and enforced. This plan must address issues such as protecting endangered species, respecting the rights of indigenous people and ensuring a long-term timber supply. As businesses and consumers choose FSC certified products, the increase in the demand reaches back through the supply chain, encouraging more forest managers to gain certification. The promotion of FSC certified products also reduces the market for illegally logged timber.

Kim: How does the work that's done by the FSC in the UK compare to that of other countries?

Rosie: The UK is one of the leading markets for FSC certified products. FSC UK is a registered charity and works to support and promote the FSC system. Whilst one of our key objectives is to ensure there is an approved FSC Forest Management standard for use in the UK, much of our work is aimed at increasing the market for FSC. The growing demand for FSC in the UK, from consumers, businesses and the public sector, generates a market for FSC material from around the world. We are working with forest managers, certified manufacturers, registered retailers and supportive NGOs, such as WWF and Greenpeace, to increase this demand.

UK businesses account for 10% of all FSC certificates in the world and we believe that with continued education and development for consumers and industry, the UK can become an example of excellence in forest product sourcing.

Kim: We can say anecdotally that more and more customers are familiar with the FSC logo today than they were even a year ago, but are you satisfied with the way consumer awareness is growing?

Rosie: We have commissioned independent polls annually since 2007 and the increase in recognition of the FSC logo over recent years has been significant. The number of people questioned who had seen the FSC logo before rose from 19% in 2007 to 43% in 2011. In the under 45 age groups, the increase is even greater, rising from 21% to 53%, and the figures are higher still in the under 25s.. There has also been a large increase in the number of people knowingly buying FSC products, from 11% to 33%.

During 2011, International Year of Forests, FSC UK focused on raising consumer awareness through exhibitions at events such as Chelsea Flower Show and Glastonbury Festival. We have also worked with WWF on their “What Wood You Choose?” campaign, promoting FSC, and with the Forestry Commission on the “Love Forests” project.

The annual celebration of “FSC Friday” takes place on the last Friday in September. This awareness raising event was initiated by FSC UK in 2008 but is now recognised internationally, with a wide range of activities taking place around the world. We hope that this celebration of the world’s forests will help further increase recognition of the logo and create greater demand for FSC.

Kim: It takes so long to regrow trees that it can sound ridiculous to say that planting trees can offset the effect of deforestation. How do you respond to this statement?

Rosie: The FSC system recognises the value of plantations in terms of reducing the pressure on natural forests, and has strict standards for the certification of plantations. However, the certification of plantations is only one aspect of FSC. Natural forests, including tropical rainforests, can be FSC certified as long as appropriate management plans are agreed, with appropriate rates of harvesting.

The FSC approach is holistic and cannot be reduced to “planting a tree for every one that is chopped down”. Whilst management plans must ensure that trees are planted or allowed to regenerate naturally, this is only one aspect. Obviously the growth rates differ from species to species and the management plans must be tailored to the forest type. In Precious Woods’ operations in the Amazon, for example, logging is highly selective with only 3-4 trees per hectare harvested once every 25 years.

Kim: What can consumers do, besides buying FSC certified products, to support your work?

Rosie: We would encourage consumers to look for FSC labelled products and, if they cannot find them, to ask. Any increase in demand feeds back through the supply chain and should result in an increase in the area of forest that is certified to FSC standards.

As a registered charity, FSC UK does rely on donations from businesses, charitable trusts and individual supporters. Anyone wishing to support our work can make a donation, e.g. through thebiggive.org.uk or, for £20 per year, they can become an FSC supporter. Our supporters receive a welcome pack of FSC products, a quarterly magazine and discounts from a range of FSC retailers.

Kim: Why is it necessary that retailers like us promote FSC products?

Rosie: FSC UK is only a small charity and we rely on retailers such as Chest of Drawers to help raise awareness of the importance of choosing FSC products.  Consumers are often more conscious of FSC when they are buying garden furniture or timber for DIY projects.  It’s great to see other FSC products, like household furniture, being offered to the consumer and we appreciate any help the retailers can offer in order to increase recognition of the FSC system.  Our research has shown that, once consumers are aware of the meaning behind the FSC label, they are much more likely to look for FSC products in future.  If we can work together to increase this logo recognition, the demand for FSC products and forests should increase, ultimately resulting in more well-managed forests and a reduced market for illegally logged timber.

Kim: Thanks Rosie. Readers, please check out the FSC videos for a complete history of the organisation that really seems to be making a difference.

 

 

 

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