FSC is not a legal requirement – it is a non-governmental body whereby membership and certification is voluntary. However, over time FSC has become an ethical requirement especially as awareness of the damage non-sustainable forest practises causes have become engrained in public consciousness. Rightly so, this ethical requirement has virtually made FSC certification legal, especially in high profile projects.
EUTR regulations for the EU and UK ensure that all timber in circulation should be legally harvested. Operators who do not comply subject to penalties. In theory, this should render FSC irrelevant. This is not the case. What is defined as legal in EUTR regulation is according to the laws where the timber was harvested. Many less economically developed countries (LEDC’s), especially in tropical and sub-tropical areas, have logging laws which are not up to international standards. Therefore, independent certification bodies such as FSC and PEFC continue to fulfil important roles in the timber industry.
Read more about FSC in relation to EUTR here.
FSC would be less well known if knowledge of EUTR was more prevalent. You need to understand the history behind these strategies to understand why. FSC was launched in 1993 as a trailblazing collaboration of various stakeholder groups including NGO’s. Countries participating in the 1992 Rio Earth Summit failed to reach an agreement on how command-and-control regulation could be used to control deforestation. This market-led foresight has been vindicated, as it has taken until 2013 for EUTR to be introduced. The 20 year gap has allowed FSC to build a formidable public presence. This may be a blessing in disguise for sustainable forest management as FSC certification is typically more rigorous than EUTR.
This unusual balance of legal and ethical requirements does cause problems. For example, specifiers like to use FSC certified products across entire projects. If the timber is sourced locally, for example English Oak, this is no problem as most UK forests are managed according to FSC standards and the Chain of Custody’s are very short. However, problems arise when specifying tropical hardwoods. 83% of FSC-certified forests lie in Europe and North America, but tropical (Asia, Africa and Latin America) forests only account for 16% of FSC-certified areas. This has made it near-impossible for timber manufacturers to work with large sections of certain species, such as Iroko, and meet FSC demands made by specifiers.
This is because FSC certification is an expensive process. Companies in tropical areas are often smaller and/or less well funded than Europe/North American companies. Therefore, they struggle to afford the process of become FSC certified. Especially since the launch of EUTR this geographical imbalance trend has become increasingly pronounced as logging concerns must spend money to comply with EUTR otherwise their timber is illegal and will not sell. This is a positive – it is becoming progressively harder for irresponsible logging companies to make a quick profit at the expense of the environment, but when specifying tropical timber remember that you may have to settle for EUTR only.
It is a common misconception that being FSC certified means you do not need to comply with the due diligence required for EUTR compliance. FSC certification does not give you automatic EUTR compliance. The confusion arises because FSC certification in a more rigorous process than EUTR, so by following FSC practises companies find doing EUTR due diligence is a much easier and quicker task.