Sept. 2007—FSC. Those three letters seem to be popping up everywhere these days. In articles about the industry, in corporate communications, even in customer inquiries. But what do they mean, and why should you care?
FSC stands for the Forest Stewardship Council, a third-party, independent and international organization. In October 1993 an agreement was reached to launch FSC, and by August 1994 a set of principles and criteria, together with the statutes for the Council, were agreed and approved by the votes of the founding members, representatives of organizations from around the world.
"Forest Stewardship Council is a non-profit organization devoted to encouraging the responsible management of the world's forests," the organization noted on its Web site. "FSC sets high standards that ensure forestry is practiced in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable way."
The FSC itself does not issue certification. Instead, it accredits a set of third-party organizations, allowing it to maintain its independent status. In the United States, there are four bodies who are allowed to issue and audit FSC certifications—Bureau Veritas Certification, Jamestown, N.Y.; Scientific Certification Systems, Emeryville, Calif.; SGS Systems and Services Certification Inc., Rutherford, N.J.; and Smartwood Program, Richmond, Vt.
"FSC's model of certification allows products that flow from certified forests to enter the marketplace with a credential that is unique," it notes on the Web site. "Any FSC-labeled product can be traced back to a certified source. This aspect of the system is the basis for any credible certification system and is the link between consumer preference and responsible, on-the-ground forest management."
There are two types of certification offered by the FSC: forest management activities (sometimes referred to as "F.M.") and chain-of-custody tracking (COC) for mills, manufacturers, and distributors. COC certification addresses a company's ability to track certified products throughout their inventory and distribution processes.
Chain of Custody Certification
For commercial printers, COC certification is what customers and potential customers will be looking for. This is basically a certificate confirming that, as a shop, you are purchasing paper products that originated in a certified forest, and have been handled and tracked throughout the process. If, at any one point, the chain is broken, everyone else down the line loses the ability to use and promote the FSC-logo for that particular product.
For more information about COC certification, see our Trendspotting: Sustainability Part 2 feature starting on page 1.
According to the FSC, the United States is the largest market for paper products in the world, producing 90 million tons of paper annually and, in-turn, consuming about 100 million tons. Despite improved technologies for refining post-consumer pulp, virgin fiber is still a significant requirement, as only 35 percent of current consumption is met by using recycled fiber; in addition, approximately 25 percent of recovered fiber is exported out of U.S. markets.
"While recycled fiber is a key element of the traditional model for responsible consumption, it is becoming increasingly clear that forest management in the production of the wood used in paper manufacturing has more importance than even recycled fiber. The use of alternative fibers, chemical treatment, and resulting effluence are other factors important to the responsible purchasing of paper and board."
These days, printers are increasingly feeling the pressure from clients, who are in turn feeling the pressure from their own customers, to think and act "green." FSC certification is one way everyone along the way can participate, helping serve the environment without interrupting operations or creating a great deal of hardship—for printers, the biggest component is tracking the certified paper as it comes into the shop, and making sure the certified and non-certified inventory stays separated.
"The FSC certification system allows professionals to know they are doing the right thing, and taking business away from companies that may still be supporting illegal, unsustainable, unverified logging activities. The intent of the FSC system is to shift the market to eliminate habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples, and violence against people and wildlife that often accompanies logging," the FSC noted on its Web site.
This article originally appeared in the May 21, 2007 issue of Printing News .