Controlled Wood: An Essential Ingredient in the FSC Recipe

FSC aims to transform global forestry practices by capturing growing interest in and market demand for sustainable products. To achieve its mission, FSC must be acutely aware of its position as a voluntary standards setting organization. As consumers have choice in their purchasing decisions, so too do producers and forest managers in engaging with FSC. To attract more certificate holders, FSC must inspire and reward adoption, and be attractive to forest managers and producers.

Chris McDonell,
Economic North

Manager, Aboriginal and Environmental Relations, Tembec, Canada

As a certificate holder and a member of FSC since 1998, we at Tembec, know the journey from zero to 100 per cent FSC takes time, resources, and strategy. While we are proud of reaching nearly 100 per cent FSC-certified forest in some regions, in other regions achieving 50 per cent after nearly 20 years of sustained effort has been a major challenge. And Tembec’s context is not unique.

Many producers (i.e. pulp and paper mills) are not able to meet all of their fibre needs from their own forest operations. In places as diverse as British Columbia, France, Taiwan, and the south-eastern United States, producers are reliant primarily on external fibre purchases. Independent forest owners and primary producers (i.e. sawmills) located locally, or thousands of miles away, can be major sources of supply, meaning a lengthy list of suppliers that the producer must manage. The tools provided by FSC to certificate holders must be aligned to this reality.

Listening to the market

With the release of the FSC Global Strategic Plan 2015–2020, FSC declared its intention to more than double its share of global forest-based trade to 20 per cent by 2020. Data released by FSC in August 2017 indicate that FSC is engaging approximately 14 per cent of the global market for harvested timber. Why not more?

FSC members must acknowledge that the current FSC value proposition is weak. Market signals are not strong enough to compel a catalytic adoption of FSC forest management certification broadly. It is clear that a majority of the FSC trade that has developed since the mid-2000s is due to the application of the FSC Mix label. In my view, the FSC Mix label is essential to the future growth of the system, until a ‘tipping point’ of adoption has been reached. That said, simply maintaining the status quo will not be enough. Increased effort will be required to address a more immediate need – greater brand recognition for FSC. When the logo is more visible, the FSC Mix label delivers.

A step-wise approach

The evaluation and designation of FSC controlled wood suppliers is a risk-based approach that gives recognition to those willing to take an initial step into the FSC system. A criticism of controlled wood is that, as it is less demanding than forest management certification, it becomes an endpoint rather than a step towards full FSC forest management certification.

While this is valid in some cases, it is a step of engagement that carries increasing credibility and integrity as the controlled wood system is improved. Participation in the FSC system, of any type, brings value to the organization. From this base, FSC can attract deeper participation. As market signals strengthen, and the international generic indicators (IGIs) transfer process is completed (bringing much needed certainty to forest management standards), controlled wood certificate holders will be afforded the best opportunity to take the next step.

Recognizing equivalency

As 76 per cent of forest trade is outside the FSC system, the strategies employed to encourage organizations to become FSC certified need to be pragmatic and streamlined. Dual audits have shown that in specific regions there are comparable requirements in other voluntary systems. While ensuring the credibility of FSC, recognizing good practice as equivalent to FSC will reduce duplication, and free up resources for FSC implementation. This approach recognizes the efforts of others in the forestry sector and provides an efficient on-ramp for entry into the FSC system.

Strength of non-certified actors

A further incentive for producers and suppliers to work towards forest management certification would be the ability to sell controlled wood material to non-certified customers. FSC controlled wood can secure existing customer relationships and provide access to a broader market. These opportunities are an interim reward for those who participate in the FSC system.

The risk of inaccurate claims by non-certified actors would need to be managed, and these actors should not have access to the FSC logo or labelling. However, to achieve the critical mass required to accomplish ‘20 by 2020’ we must expand opportunities to offer existing FSC material to the market.

The FSC journey

At Tembec, our FSC journey remains on course. We are proud of our efforts to date and appreciate the support from all those in the FSC system. While our focus is on maintaining and growing FSC forest management certification, the value of controlled wood as a component of the system is an essential ingredient for keeping suppliers engaged, and maintaining the potential for forest management certification.

The journey of responsibly managed forests starts with the first forest. Controlled wood and the FSC Mix label provide recognition of that accomplishment, enabling visibility of the FSC trademark on the market, and the prospect for growth. FSC must continue to listen to the market, understand its certificate holders, and offer step-wise solutions if it is to achieve Forests For All Forever.


The views expressed in the opinion pieces released both prior to and at the FSC General Assembly are the personal opinion of the author, and do not represent the views of FSC. Different members were approached to provide two sides of each argument, but some members exercised their right to decline.