The Good and the Bad of FSC®
Paper and Paper Pulp are a commodity that are traded on a global stage. As a result of expoloding international demand, the world’s forests are being put under increased pressure. In response international environmental organizations have established standards for sustainable forest management. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is a domestic chain of custody system that many paper companies in the United States prescribe to. While it is a reasonable standard combined with the current level of government oversight in the U.S., the problem deforestation and poor forestry management is global in nature and requires a legitimate international standard to address the problems affecting the planet’s rain forests. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has made great strides in implementing a global standard. It is our view that FSC is an imperfect mechanism but represents the best avenue to protect the world’s forests. FSC permits several levels of compliance based upon the percentage of FSC fiber in the sheet.
Keep in mind that FSC certification applies to all wood products. This conversation pertains primarily to paper.
The “Good” about FSC
- We need a global standard. It is important that everyone plays by the same set of rules. It is not possible to hold global paper companies accountable for their forest practices unless everyone is judged by the same metric. The paper industry in the U.S. would prefer using the SFI standard which is less bureaucratic . SFI combined with U.S. government oversight creates a great deal of protection for America’s forest. The problem is that issues of deforestation are global. The rainforests are being wiped out an alarming rate. If we are to have a certification system that relies on creating consumer demand for paper made in a sustainable way and that shuns the companies that abuse our forests, the standard has to be seen as fair across borders.
- There was a great deal of collaboration between global environmental organizations and the forestry and paper industry to establish and promote FSC standards that are strict enough to protect our forests while flexible enough to evolve as the industry improves its practices. There has been significant acceptance by both NGOs and business.
The “Bad” about FSC
- There are major loopholes in the certification process. Most buyers of sustainable paper products know about FSC certification and consider it a good thing. But very few people know that there are two general categories of certification…”mixed” and “100%”. There is a shortage of FSC fiber on the market. FSC permits using the FSC logo if only some of the fiber is certified as coming from well managed forests. What started as a system that permitted paper companies to ease into offering FSC papers as fiber becomes available has become a way to claim “sustainability” while not having an incentive to move toward 100% sources.
- An example of misuse of the FSC certification is the mill Asia Pulp and Paper. They offered a small botique line of FSC paper and yet they were implicated in a Wall Street Journal expose for wide spread deforestation in Indonesia. While this example is extreme, it suggests that it is possible to game the system. Now Asia Pulp and Paper is selling the cheapest uncoated recycled paper on the market with no 3rd party certification to either their recycled content or their sourcing for the virgin fiber. We won’t use their paper until they clean up their act but we compete with printers using their paper every day.
- Another example of gaming the system is Potlatch Paper that offers an FSC Paper for a 2% up charge. When you pay the 2%, they put an FSC logo on a lot of paper that has already been made. If they have 5% FSC fiber in a paper run, they can sell 5% of the paper as FSC regardless of where it comes from. Potlatch can claim that they sell FSC Paper and have a nice marketing strategy around being a company concerned about the environment but it is not clear that they are incentived to move the needle. What started as an attempt to reward companies moving in the right direction has become a way of claiming sustainable practices without being incentivized to move the needle.
- FSC certification costs Community Printers $2,000 a year. For that we get to do a lot of paper work. The system could be dramatically streamlined lowering the cost for certification at the same time and getting more printers to opt in but there is no incentive on the part of the regulating organizations to make a change because they are happy with what they are currently making from each print shop. Virtually all of the coated paper that we use is FSC certified but we rarely use the FSC logo because of all the hassles associated with using it.
A reasonable person reading the “good” and the “bad” would ask why continue with FSC. The simple answer is that it represents the best hope for stopping uncontrolled deforestation even with its imperfections. There are many printers and many paper companies who are trying to do the right thing in spite of all the challenges. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.
FSC website The website of the Forest Stewardship Council.
FSC Watch The website of one of the most vocal environmental critics of FSC.
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