We spoke with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to learn more about the organisation – from insider advice on how the certification process works, to what separates it from competing schemes.

In terms of impact evaluation specifically relating to Europe, what tangible effects has the work of the FSC had on the environment?

FSC Principles and Criteria strive towards reducing the negative impacts of forest management interventions and promoting responsible forestry. Sustainable forest management always requires a compromise between profitability and conservation and in this fragile equilibrium, certification is fundamental.

There is scientific evidence that FSC plays a key role in preventing biodiversity loss and deforestation and protecting forests of High Conservation Value (HCV) as well as bringing different stakeholders together to co-create solutions to conflicts or issues.

With the proactive engagement of diverse stakeholder groups, at international and national levels, the FSC Principles and Criteria help to ensure that these many different interests and opinions regarding forest management are all considered via consultative processes which result in robust, nationally applicable standards.

How might becoming FSC certified benefit a member of the packaging value chain?

FSC certificate holders indicate that meeting client demands, achieving competitive advantage and market access were the primary reasons for becoming certified in the first place which closely aligns with the business benefits identified by respondents who have been certified longer than a year.

On the other hand, communicating about corporate social responsibility as well as improving public relations and communication were the main benefits for holding a promotional license.

In the current context of moving towards biomaterials in the packaging VC, FSC certification plays a key role in providing reassurance to consumers and brand owners that with the sudden increase in fibre for packaging, the resulting pressure on forests does not need to be negative.

How does the certification process work, from start to finish?

Becoming FSC-certified shows compliance with the highest social and environmental standards on the market. There are five steps to follow to obtain a certificate:

  1. Contact FSC accredited certification bodies
  2. Submit a certification application to the FSC certification body of your choice
  3. Ensure that an appropriate FSC Forest Management or Chain of Custody Management System is in place in your business operations
  4. Undergo an on-site audit by your chosen certification body
  5. Gain certification approval.

Are there any tips that you would give to packaging organizations that are thinking about applying for FSC certification?

FSC is based on three pillars that have to be accounted for at the same time: environmental, social and economic. Therefore, if a company has already included sustainability in their policies and respects the rights of their employees, the path for obtaining a certificate will be smoother. Having a pre-existing quality or environmental management system like ISO 9001 or ISO14001 in the company makes the climb to FSC Chain of Custody requirements a lot faster and easier.

How is pricing determined and how does it work in practice?

Pricing for certification is made up of the cost of audit (usually the greatest cost) and FSC’s Annual Accreditation Fee (AAF, an updated version was just released), which is the amount FSC charges companies, through CBs, to become FSC certified. FSC uses the AAF from Certificate Holders to maintain and develop the FSC certification scheme and system.

Overall pricing for certification depends on many variables, and usually, the most significant cost is the FSC audit and this depends on the size and complexity of a company’s operation. The more complex an operation, the longer it tends to take to audit and therefore the higher the price will be. If the company already has a quality management system and staff are trained, it might be faster and therefore less costly.

A number of competing certification schemes exist – the PEFC among them. In your view, what separates the FSC from its competitors?

Many social and environmental stakeholders look to FSC because of its use of the High Conservation Value (HCV) concept, which ensures that ecological and cultural values of forests (species-at-risk, rare forest types such Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs), ecological services, and social and cultural sites) are not only conserved but improved through management activities.

Other schemes do not require stakeholder consultation for ‘ecologically important forest areas’, nor the use of the precautionary approach when managing them and do not recognize IFLs as a value requiring conservation.

FSC was one of the very first forest organizations to champion Indigenous people’s rights and has requirements and detailed requirements and guidance to ensure that the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of Indigenous peoples is implemented robustly. FPIC is an essential right according to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Other schemes don’t systematically require the application of FPIC globally.

In 2009 FSC introduced a policy to which organizations associating with FSC had to commit, forbidding them from involvement in potentially destructive forest practices, such as illegal logging. This pioneering policy means that FSC licence holders can be investigated, and potentially excluded from the system not just from company activities within their FSC-certified concessions, but also that carried out elsewhere.

Earlier this year FSC announced its disassociation from the Indonesian Korindo Group, a certificate holder alleged to have been involved in deforestation, human rights abuses and the destruction of high conservation values in its (uncertified) palm oil operations.

What does the future hold for the FSC, and how might increasing demand for fibre-based packaging impact the work that it does?

FSC will continue to strive to protect forests and the communities that rely on them, so we can have forests, for all, forever. With an increase in demand for wood and wood-based products, the need for FSC certification will become more evident. At the same time, as the world is transitioning towards circularity, there is the FSC Recycled label allowing to give more lives to a material that go beyond one single product making sure that the sustainability aspect comes with all of them.