An independent observer of the Forest Stewartship Council

Rainforest Action Network: FSC Credibility on Thin IceTags: Worldwide, Rainforest Action Network

We reproduce below a posting which appeared yesterday on Understory, the official blog of the Rainforest Action Network.

Forest Stewardship Council Credibility on Thin Ice posted by Brant in Grassy Narrows, Old Growth, RAN General on October 31st, 2007

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal included coverage of "growing pains" at the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Jim Carleton quotes me saying "It's a question of how do we improve the system, not whether we can keep the system... Because if you look at the alternative systems run by industry, those are even weaker."

The quote's accurate, but incomplete. It's important to fend off half-baked industry schemes like the SFI, but the more crucial point is that the FSC must improve to remain a credible tool for conserving forests.

The worth of any market standard (think Organic, Fair Trade, Made in the USA), boils down to whether its value to buyers can ultimately reward good guys for doing good and punish bad guys for not getting on board.

Storm clouds are gathering above the FSC because that formula is breaking down. Demand for FSC is through the roof, but the big buyers won't offer a premium-only a preference. Even so, loggers from Borneo to the Boreal are clamoring for the thin market advantage. Unfortunately, there's too few good guys to fill the shelves with FSC product. The recent certification and subsequent de-certification of Indonesia's Asia Pulp and Paper signals severe instability in a system struggling to meet rising demand without sacrificing credibility.

Some say these signals are death knells. Last year, several prominent forest activists including one founding member of the FSC launched FSC-Watch.org as a clearing house for complaints about the program. Two weeks ago, Glenn Barry's Ecological Internet supporters filled RAN's inboxes with more than 3000 emails critical of our support of the FSC.

To remain credible, FSC needs to rebuild its value promise - and fast. Today, FSC's US affiliate faces an opportunity to begin doing just that. Recent evaluations led by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation concluded that FSC certification might be a viable option for National Forests. Existing rules at FSC make that option out of the question until it can build consensus around how to go about it.

While the findings themselves are interesting, more important will be how effectively FSC responds to the spectrum of advocates pulling the system from opposite ends. Multinational retailers and loggers eager to green their image want access to more wood with a green stamp. Vocal critics inside and out don't want any logging in National Forests, much less the legitimacy of an FSC stamp. While not a formal policy per se, RAN has consistently pushed the FSC toward conservation of all intact forest landscapes, biologically appropriate restoration and respect for the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities wherever it certifies.

If it's to remain relevant, FSC needs to seize opportunities offered by challenges like the current debate over National Forests as an opportunity to raise public awareness, strengthen its governance, rebuild flagging consensus among its members and reestablish itself as a credible tool for conserving forests. Alternatively, the FSC will be to forestry what betamax was to video recording - better in quality, but virtually irrelevant.

Brant Olson


The fundamental problem with FSC is that it certifies large, industrial forestry operations. I don't know when this started, but it should be off the table.

The operations of the Tembec mill in Pine Falls, Manitoba was certified last month. They have done absolutely nothing different from their previous operations. I also work as a handyman, so when I go to the Home Depot and see the FSC logo it means nothing to me. It means more of the same clear cutting, old-growth forest destruction and pesticide spraying.

There has been much talk of reform in several recent posts. I am sick and tired of trying to lobby 3 levels of government and corporations. The very last thing I want to do is lobby another bureaucracy to protect forest.

I refuse to follow the despute resolution crap that FSC has laid out for activists. This is the only response I've gotten from my serious concerns with the Tembec certification.

FSC can go to hell for all I care. So can Greenpeace and any other group that hasn't had the guts to disavow themselves from this greenwashing scheme.

David Nickarz

This is too rich. FSC is a shake down. Now, you've got you guys looking to shake down the shake down. I bet sending you a few "carbon neutralizing" dollars would make FSC's "problems" go away.

For years now I hear environmental and social activists discussing about the problems of FSC, the certification of industrial logging in natural forests, the certificaction of large scale industrial timber plantations, and that reforms of FSC are necessary. But nothing has happened and nothing has changed.

A lot of valuable time and money has spent and wasted. There are the certifiers which are not independent, there is the dominance of the economic chamber, dominance of certified plantations and industrial operations in natural forests (as it is very difficult that communities get certificates for low impact and volume management of natural forests), there is the fundamental question if a market driven mechanism like FSC is a solution,....

This websites hosts only some of the problems and failures, there are much more. Similar problems also exist in the different national initiatives.

Maybe in some European countries the system might work, but in the Global South and many other countries it does not. Now industry and politicians see certification as a solution for biofuels, and they sell FSC as a modell for these plans. Soon we might see certified palm oil plantations in Indonesian and Colombian rainforests, certified sugar cane plantations in the Brazilian Cerrado, with FSC label or another one...

After almost 15 years of existence the system should work and the time for experiments should have finished. As it is not like this and as FSC ignores all problems it is time to accept that the experiment is over and the system does not work. The environmental and social organizations should analyze quickly if they could stay on the boat, or if it is not time to leave now and to dedicate their time and money to the forests and forest communities.

Klaus Schenck

David's 11/1 analysis is on target. The FSC certification process became too big, too fast and like most large organizations that lack quality control - has now imploded on itself. Where are the original founders such as Greenpeace on all of this. Are they responding to any of the allegations that are being made regarding FSC's lack of credibility? Or are their heads in the sand? I cannot believe they and the other founding green groups that supported this process remain unconcerned. In Ocean City, NJ we are days away from receiving 1.3 million US dollars of Ipe wood from Brazil. Not only are we getting the run around on the FSC certificates and Chain of Custody forms, but the Mayor of America's favorite family city is touting that there is nothing wrong with the FSC certification program because it is endorsed by Greenpeace and other International Environmental Organizations. With the Mayor's rationale, we are having a hard time gaining full public support to challange the City when Greenpeace and others endorse the product the Mayor is buying. Thanks Greenpeace, WWF, etc... for creating this nightmare and for (ironically) deforesting the very resources you are trying to protect.

New Jersey, USA

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