The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

In many forests around the world, logging still contributes to habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples, and violence against people who work in the forest and the wildlife that dwells there. Many consumers of wood and paper, and many forest products companies believe that the link between logging and these negative impacts can be broken, and that forests can be managed and protected at the same time. Forest Stewardship Council certification is one way to improve the practice of forestry.


Principles and Criteria for FSC


Principle #1: Compliance with laws and FSC principles

Forest management shall respect all applicable laws of the country in which they occur, and international treaties and agreements to which the country is a signatory, and comply with all FSC Principles and Criteria.

Principle #2: Tenure and use rights and responsibilities

Long-term tenure and use rights to the land and forest resources shall be clearly defined, documented and legally established.

Principle #3: Indigenous peoples' rights

The legal and customary rights of indigenous peoples to own, use and manage their lands, territories, and resources shall be recognised and respected.

Principle #4: Community relations and worker's rights

Forest management operations shall maintain or enhance the long-term social and economic well-being of forest workers and local communities.

Principle # 5: Benefits from the forest

Forest management operations shall encourage the efficient use of the forest's multiple products and services to ensure economic viability and a wide range of environmental and social benefits.

Principle #6: Environmental impact

Forest management shall conserve biological diversity and its associated values, water resources, soils, and unique and fragile ecosystems and landscapes, and, by so doing, maintain the ecological functions and the integrity of the forest.

Principle #7: Management plan

A management plan -- appropriate to the scale and intensity of the operations -- shall be written, implemented, and kept up to date. The long term objectives of management, and the means of achieving them, shall be clearly stated.

Principle #8: Monitoring and assessment

Monitoring shall be conducted -- appropriate to the scale and intensity of forest management -- to assess the condition of the forest, yields of forest products, chain of custody, management activities and their social and environmental impacts.

Principle # 9 : Maintenance of high conservation value forests

Management activities in high conservation value forests shall maintain or enhance the attributes which define such forests. Decisions regarding high conservation value forests shall always be considered in the context of a precautionary approach.

Principle # 10: Plantations

Plantations shall be planned and managed in accordance with Principles and Criteria 1 - 9, and Principle 10 and its Criteria. While plantations can provide an array of social and economic benefits, and can contribute to satisfying the world's needs for forest products, they should complement the management of, reduce pressures on, and promote the restoration and conservation of natural forests.



The FSC label

The Trademark of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a label on timber and wood products which indicates that the wood comes from a well-managed forest. It guarantees that the forest of origin has been independently inspected and evaluated to comply with an internationally agreed set of strict environmental, social and economic standards. The FSC Trademark enables companies to choose timber with the confidence that they are not contributing to the destruction of the world's forests. By buying from certified sources they provide an incentive in the marketplace for good forestry practice.


What is the Forest Stewardship Council?

FSC is an international, non-profit, non-governmental organisation founded in 1993 to promote good forest management worldwide. Its membership comprises environmental groups, such as WWF and Greenpeace, indigenous peoples' organisations, community forestry groups, forestry professionals, timber traders, and retail companies. This broad base of support helps to maintain FSC's pragmatism and credibility.


Claims of sustainability - who to believe?

How can you be sure that environmental claims such as 'from a sustainable source' have any meaning? Green labels are a minefield. In the early 1990s they appeared on everything from furniture to disposable nappies. It was the response of companies who sought to defend their reputation under increasing pressure from environmental campaigns and the public. However, the public has no way of knowing what is behind such claims.

A survey commissioned by the WWF in 1993 showed that only three out of 80 users of such labels were able to back up their claims with any evidence and none could fully answer the questions. The FSC was established to provide an approach which tackles these problems.


Services offered by FSC UK

• A variety of fact sheets including UK Timber Merchants Stocking FSC Certified Timber, Building Materials Available in the UK.

• Join the FSC UK Subscription Service. You will receive annual reports, the FSC newsletter (3 times a year), special updates on policy, market linkage help, and news and developments as they happen.

• The FSC UK office is available to answer any questions you may have about certification. They can also undertake searches of their databases for sources of specific timber species or certified products you may need. Please feel free to ring them on 01686 413 916.

• Trademark service for UK based, non-certified organisations (such as retailers, agents, NGO’s, schools).


Certification and labelling under the FSC

For you to be sure that a piece of wood comes from a well-managed forest, you need to know two things:

1) that the forest of origin can be proven to be managed responsibly,
2) that the piece of wood can be guaranteed to come from that forest.

The FSC system provides both these elements: forest certification and chain of custody control.

Forest certification involves an inspection of the forest management by an independent organisation, such as the Soil Association or SGS Qualifor, to check that it complies with FSC's internationally agreed Principles and Criteria of good forest management. Requirements include compliance with national legislation, respect for local people's rights, ecological integrity, economic viability, and the need for adequate planning and monitoring of operations.

Chain of custody control ensures that the wood is, verifiably, from a certified source. It requires that the timber is marked and/or separated from uncertified timber through all processing stages from the forest to the retail shelf. This track, i.e. the 'chain-of-custody', is likewise inspected and monitored by independent certification bodies.


How do I ensure that I'm specifiying FSC sourced timber?


1) Make sure your specified sources are FSC certified

To carry the FSC label, the wood used to make a product has to come from a certified source. The FSC-UK office provides lists of certified forests in the UK together with the timbers they produce, and a list of timber merchants and importers in the UK who can supply certified timber. For details of certified forests and products world-wide there is a free on-line database which can be found through the product search on the FSC website using the ‘search worldwide’ option. Alternatively you could encourage your suppliers to consider forest certification. The FSC-UK office also provides information about certification to pass on to your suppliers to encourage them to get certified. Many manufacturers find they already use certified suppliers, but you will need to make sure that you are specifiying their certified products and not uncertified lines.


2) Ensure a chain-of-custody certificate is specified

To carry the FSC label, timber and products have to be recognisable as coming from a certified source at all points in the supply chain. Chain of custody certification is required for every stage in the manufacture of a product, from the sawmill to a timber merchant to a manufacturing plant making components to the factory finishing the product to the wholesaler selling product to a retail company. Each stage must be inspected and certified. Only if a retailer is handling products that are packaged and labelled ready for sale to consumers is a chain of custody certificate not required. Even if no repackaging is taking place, if the customer wishes to sell on the products as certified and the supplier takes ownership of the product (legal possession), the supplier must have chain of custody certification.

FSC does not carry out inspections and certifications itself. This is done by independent certification bodies such as SGS Qualifor and BM Trada. The downloadable list at the bottom of the page shows all the certification bodies who can carry out certification in the UK and worldwide. There may be national certification bodies in some countries, so if you are interested in getting an overseas operation certified, please contact the FSC UK office for a full listing.


How do I know that FSC certified timber has been delivered to site?

Timber may or may not physically carry the FSC trademark. In all cases, the invoice of the supplier should clearly state that FSC certified timber was supplied. There should also be a code number that refers to the CoC certificate number; e.g. SA-COC-1022 or SGS/COC/0755/6525/0184. If the invoice does not give a code number, ask the supplier to provide the relevant information and to give it on future invoices.


The Chain Of Custody Audit

Chain of custody is ‘an unbroken train of acceptability that ensures the physical security of samples, data and records’ (ANSI/ASQC E4, 1993). FSC requires that there is ‘clear separation or demarcation of certified and non-certified forest products at all stages, including forest sites, processing, shipping, manufacturing, and wholesale distribution stages’. (FSC Statutes, 1994)

One of the central parts to the chain of custody is the identification and control of Critical Control Points (CCP). These are points in the process where mixing of certified or non-certified material can occur, for example, in a storage yard where both certified and uncertified timber is kept or in a wood turning business where certified and uncertified batches of stair rods are processed. For each CCP identified, uncontrolled mixing should be stopped by segregation, identification and documentation (all three may not be necessary).

Segregation: In the example of a wood yard, the FSC timber is kept in one corner away from all other timber, marked out by road cones and with a sign painted on the corrugated iron wall saying ‘FSC Timber Only’. In the wood turners example, segregation is carried out by doing different batches in time as well as storing the FSC blanks in their own labelled area.

Identification: where possible, certified materials should be clearly identified using either identifying marks (paint on logs), labels (for example on pallets of timber), or different packaging for certified and non-certified products.

Documentation: records should be kept of sales and purchases (including volumes), operations records and the procedures and systems in place for controlling CCP. This way the auditor can be assured that enough raw materials are being purchased for the volume of finished goods sold and that there is a system in place to control the throughput and sale of certified products. More detailed information on specific requirements is available from certification bodies on application.


Percentage Based Labelling

Products containing a mix of uncertified and/or recycled materials in addition to certified raw materials can carry the FSC Trademark. These labelling rules can be applied to all assembled products, such as furniture, and solid wood items produced in a batch system, as well as to pulp and paper products. This policy underwent a major revision to further FSC’s mission to promote good forest management world-wide, using the mechanisms of certification and labelling. Further new standards were launched in the Summer of 2004.

In chip and fibre products, the minimum amount of FSC endorsed certified virgin wood is 30% of the total virgin wood chip or fibre materials. In chip and fibre products containing recycled or other neutral materials, the minimum amount of FSC certified wood is 17.5% of the whole products. This allows recycled or other neutral materials of up to 82.5% of the total volume of the product.

Collections of solid wood items, and assembled components made from solid wood may be FSC labelled when there is a minimum of 70% FSC certified wood.

Uncertified wood: companies making percentage based claims will have to operate systems for avoiding wood from controversial sources defined as coming from High Conservation Value Forests, areas with existing disputes with indigenous populations, timber that has been harvested illegally and timber from GMO sources.


Labels on products must state the contents of the product and the percentage.

Companies wishing to make a percentage based claim need to talk to their certification body. The full policy is available from the FSC UK Working Group office. If you have any questions call FSC UK.

NB: The percentage based claims policy is currently under revision. Please contact the FSC UK office for copies of the draft standards for chip and fibre, sawn timber or assembled products. We also have a ‘crib’ sheet on new draft and existing standards for percentage based claims.


Group Chain Of Custody (Group COC)

There is now an opportunity for groups needing chain of custody certification to do this together as a single entity. Group CoC has been developed to help smaller enterprises achieve FSC certification by reducing the costs of certification. Certifiers will sample members of a group and carry out risk assessment of the group scheme rather than assessing each individual business. A Group Co-ordinator will need to be assigned to ensure that all members of the Group are using systems that meet the FSC rules. Groups can only contain businesses that have either under 15 employees or under 25 employees and a turnover of under $1 million (around £700,000). FSC is continuing to work on eligibility criteria that are appropriate in a global context and may make changes to the policy based on the results.

Group Certification can potentially be run by trade associations, marketing groups or other groups with a common need to achieve chain of custody certification.

There are full guidelines available that can be used by potential applicants to help design their group scheme. Further explanatory documents and the full guidelines are available from the FSC UK Office.

There are currently two group schemes in operation:
Independent Forestry (tel. 01751 477 965) and Oxford Timber Audits (tel. 01865 343 624).

© 2004 Text reproduced with the kind permission of the FSC




BS EN 350-1: 1994 Durability of wood and wood based products. Natural durability of solid wood. Guide to the principles of testing and classification of the natural durability of wood.

BS EN 460: 1994 Durability of wood and wood-based products. Natural durability of solid wood. Guide to the durability requirements for wood to be used in hazard classes.

External Timber Cladding. DG3/2000, amended 2003.
High Performance Wood Windows. TBL 65. Second edition 2004.
TRADA Wood Information Sheets:
2/3 – 1 Finishes for external timber.
2/3 -10 Timbers – their properties and uses.
4 – 14 Moisture in timber.


Further information

• The FSC website -
• The Central Point of Expertise on Timber Procurement (CPET) -