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What’s in a forest eco-label?

In today's internet world, we're bombarded with information which can be both good and overwhelming. It can get complicated quickly if you're trying to shop eco-consciously, as you try to figure out if the product is actually "eco" and if the label is credible.

Eco-labels have been around for a while, but how do you know if it's credible?

In the forest product eco-label world, the gold-standard is the FSC logo. When you see that stamped on an envelope or a 2-by-4 you know that product came from a well-managed forest.

For a forest company to be certified through Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), it must follow strict guidelines. FSC is the only certification body that uses an independent, third-party auditor, which makes it all the more credible. The certification process follows a "chain of custody", meaning it tracks the product from the forest all the way to the shelf. So as a consumer, you know that the FSC-certified wood product you purchased came from a certified and well-managed forest.

I was at an "eco-store" recently and saw iPhone cases made from wood. I was quite excited at first, as I prefer natural products over plastic, but after reading the back, I was rather disappointed. There was no FSC logo and the wood used to make the case came from a forest in Indonesia, a country with a bad rep for forest practices. In the end, I didn't buy the case simply because it didn't have the FSC logo, which meant it was possible that Orangutan habitat was destroyed in making that iPhone case. If the logo was there, it would have given me the reassurance that the product came from a well-managed forest and was helping to protect endangered wildlife.

Here in Canada, forest companies see the value in becoming FSC certified. Not only do they have a market advantage against non-FSC companies, but they're also helping to keep a more natural forest. Not only does an FSC-certified forest help wildlife, it also benefits the local community, as it requires consultation with Aboriginal peoples with the intention of respecting their rights (which is one of the major reasons why CPAWS supports companies who become FSC-certified). FSC prides itself on being transparent every step of the way, which makes it easier as a consumer in deciding which eco-label to purchase. Economically, it puts the forest company at a market advantage, as customers (like Staples and Home Depot) are looking for FSC-certified products to sell to their customers (us). According to FSC-Canada, the number of FSC certified forests has grown by 191% in the past five years!

Here are some other interesting facts about FSC in Canada, taken from their website:

  • Over 50 million hectares certified to FSC Forest Management Standards in Canada
  • 34% of Canada's certified forests are FSC-certified
  • 31% of the world's FSC-certified forests are in Canada

So next time you're out shopping, take a moment to look for the FSC logo. And if you don't see it, ask for it. I spoke with the manager at the store selling the wooden iPhone cases and he while he knew about FSC, he hadn't thought about the impacts of NOT selling FSC certified products. In the iPhone case example, the only thing "eco" about it is it came from a natural product (vs synthetic) but the impacts of that product are anything but eco.

You can learn more about FSC-Canada on their website.