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Can FSC Certification Be Trusted With Tropical Hardwoods?

We’ve written previously that the best way to ensure your tropical hardwood comes from a sustainable source is to look for an FSC logo. Unfortunately an FSC certification does NOT guarantee that you’re not unwittingly supporting tropical deforestation. Indeed, if you want to be completely and absolutely 100% sure that your choice of wood is sustainable then, regretfully, you should probably avoid tropical hardwood altogether at present.
The FSC’s history and aims

The FSC was established in 1993 following 18 months consultation in ten different countries, following growing public awareness that industrial logging was destroying huge areas of rainforest. Its declared aims are still highly laudable, and basically state that timber production should always involve:

complying with all relevant laws (local and international);
a fair deal for workers;
respect for indigenous people, and a contribution to local communities;
avoiding any environmental impact;
operating in a manner to guarantee long-term economic stability; and
open, critical and independent evaluation of the goals above.

The FSC Chain of Custody

The way a consumer can verify that all of this has been put into practice is by reference to the FSC Chain of Custody (CoC) system. This basically tracks wood all the way from the forest or plantation, through each stage in the manufacturing or shipping process, all the way to the finished product in front of the customer.
The problems with the FSC system in practice

Sounds great doesn’t it? Unfortunately, in practice, it doesn’t work that way. First, many of the local laws – Brazil’s for example – do not encourage responsible logging according to environmental campaigners. Second, some companies pay only lip service to FSC requirements and have to be ‘outed’ by environmental campaigners before leaving the FSC. And last – and most damaging – the FSC does not seem to be stringent enough applying its own principles.

One of the FSC’s founder members, Simon Counsel, is now one of their most vocal critics. His organisation Rainforest Rescue is among the contributors to the FSC Watch blog which scrutinises the FSC with the stated aim of increasing the integrity of the scheme. Rainforest Rescue themselves advocate avoiding tropical hardwoods altogether.

The FSC does appear to try to take criticism into account, which has meant that although FERN has withdrawn their support and Friends of the Earth have expressed concern that standards are not met, Greenpeace have decided to stick with the FSC and work with it to increase adherence to standards.
Other certification schemes

There are other schemes – most notably the PEFC (Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification). However, Greenpeace has pointed out that they are dominated by the timber industry, The Wilderness Society has reported that PEFC-certified schemes are abusing the environment and human rights, and FERN has stated that the body has endorsed unsustainable logging of ancient forest.
What hardwood do Türgon recommend?

If you ask us, we’ll probably point you in the direction of oak for your wooden floor. This is for many reasons; it’s durable, it’s versatile (just look at the strikingly different beautiful looks we can achieve), and most of our oak comes from managed forests in the Ukraine; we know exactly where it has come from!