Advanced Timber Knowledge

Is FSC® a Legal Requirement?

Is FSC a legal requirement?

FSC® certification is not a legal requirement but rather a voluntary membership and certification offered by a non-governmental body. Over time, it has evolved into an ethical imperative, driven by growing awareness of the environmental damage caused by unsustainable forest practices. Consequently, FSC® certification has virtually become a legal requirement, particularly in high-profile projects.

FSC® in Relation to EUTR

EUTR regulations in the EU and UK mandate the legality of timber in circulation. Non-compliant operators face penalties, making FSC® seem irrelevant in theory. However, what’s considered legal under EUTR depends on the laws in the timber’s country of origin. Many less economically developed countries, especially in tropical and sub-tropical regions, have logging laws that don’t meet international standards. Thus, independent certification bodies like FSC and the Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification continue to play vital roles in the timber industry.

Why Is FSC® Awareness High?

FSC® might be less recognized if knowledge of EUTR were more widespread. Understanding the history behind these strategies helps explain why. FSC® was established in 1993 through a pioneering collaboration of various stakeholder groups, including NGOs. The failure of countries at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to agree on command-and-control regulation for deforestation control paved the way for this market-led approach. The 20-year gap until the introduction of EUTR allowed FSC® to establish a strong public presence. This can be seen as beneficial for sustainable forest management since FSC® certification tends to be more rigorous than EUTR.

Geographical Imbalances

The unusual blend of legal and ethical requirements poses challenges. For instance, specifiers often prefer FSC® certified products for entire projects. This works well when sourcing local timber, such as English Oak, as most UK forests adhere to FSC® standards, and supply chains are short. However, difficulties arise when specifying tropical hardwoods. While 83% of FSC®-certified forests are in Europe and North America, tropical forests in Asia, Africa, and Latin America account for only 16% of FSC®-certified areas. This makes it nearly impossible for timber manufacturers to meet FSC® demands for certain species like Iroko.

Reason behind Geographical Imbalances

The root of this issue lies in the expensive nature of FSC® certification. Companies in tropical areas are often smaller and less well-funded than their European and North American counterparts, making it challenging for them to afford FSC® certification. Particularly since the launch of EUTR, this geographical imbalance has become more pronounced, as logging operations must invest in compliance to avoid illegal timber sales. While this is positive in terms of environmental protection, when specifying tropical timber, you may need to settle for EUTR compliance only.

Does FSC® Certification Ensure EUTR Compliance?

It’s a common misconception that FSC® certification automatically guarantees EUTR compliance. FSC® certification involves a more rigorous process than EUTR, so companies following FSC® practices often find EUTR due diligence more manageable and quicker to accomplish.

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