April/May newsletter – Raising the bar in Sustainable Forest Products Certification

Written by Gerard Ivan Busse, Forest Stewardship Council Marketing Manager South Africa for Forestry South Africa

83% of people surveyed believe it’s important or extremely important for companies to develop products that are meant to be reused or recycled and 72% of these same respondents said they are currently buying more environmentally friendly products than they were five year ago, while another 81% stated they expected to buy more ecologically friendly products over the next five years. This was according to a recent Accenture global survey.(Webber, 2020).

With this greater drive towards sustainable product usage, let’s look at the concept of sustainability and what we understand it to mean. According the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Sustainability is based on a simple principle. Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.” (EPA, 2017)

So, if we unpack this further. Sustainability for an organisation should involve the responsible management of environmental, economic and social resources and impacts. Sustainability should then become a business survival strategy driven by public opinion, government regulation, dramatic changes in major retailers’ purchasing criteria and increased consumer awareness. (Fibre Box Association, 2019:4-5)

The Forest Stewardship Council® has standards in place to take care of the world’s forests for future generations. We support this through a global forest certification system that awards forest management and chain of custody certificates. In practice, this means that when a product or packaging bears the FSC® label, customers are assured that it has been made with forest-based materials from responsible sources.

The FSC forest management standards are developed through broad stakeholder engagement and set requirements for responsible forest management. Responsible forest management, as promoted by FSC, maintains and enhances biodiversity and ecological processes. It aims to protect the rights of workers, communities, and Indigenous Peoples while respecting the economic viability of forest management operations. By offering credible, simple ways for more people to make ethical choices, we are helping societies recognise the value of forests for a sustainable future.

Regional meetings

Research tells us that certificate holders and consumer see value in certification:

  • 82% of certificate holders (88% of retailers and non-manufacturers) agree FSC certification helps to create a positive corporate image.
  • 71% of certificate holders (88% of retailers and non-manufacturers) agree that FSC helps them to communicate their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.
  • 78% of certificate holders say ‘meeting the demands of current clients’ is one of the most important benefits of certification.
  • 7/10 consumers feel that sustainability claims should be independently certified. (Global Consumer Insights 2017, conducted by Globe Scan of behalf of FSC International)

This in turn has profound implications for product and packaging development in terms of reviewing the current status quo and subsequently innovation. The world’s leading retailers are now demanding measurable improvements in the products and their packaging that they both use and sell to consumers.

Consumers are becoming more aware of the implications on the environment of the packaging of the products that they are consuming to the extent that they are willing to pay more of products that are using recyclable and packaging produced from sustainable sources. This is also been driven, particularly in more developed countries, by the growth in online retailing or e-tailing where the sustainability message is being driven on these e-tailers’ websites and on their social media platforms.


In South Africa retailers are doing their bit too.

In 2018 local retailer Woolworths set themselves a vision of working towards zero packaging waste to landfill. To achieve this vision, they articulated a clear set of targets and commitments, underpinned by two key public facing goals. The first was to ensure that all their plastic packaging is either reusable or recyclable by 2022; and the second was to phase out single-use plastic shopping bags from their stores by 2020. According to Woolworths they recognise that their vision and goals can only be achieved through collaboration and innovation, by working with a range of stakeholders including suppliers, packaging producers, the recycling industry, government, and other role players.

Further demonstrating their commitment is the fact that they were the first African head quartered company to sign The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment in 2018 and also became founding members of the South African Plastics Pact this year. In addition, they continue to work towards using only sustainably sourced or recycled wood and paper products throughout their operations. Where they use forest products like wood, paper, and board for packaging, they aim to ensure that they are sourced from sustainably managed forests and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®). (Source: Woolworths, 2020)


Forest management certification

Our forest management certification is awarded to organisations that manage their forest operations in socially, environmentally and economically responsible ways. As part of the certification process, an organisation’s current management undergoes an in-depth review to verify conformity against the applicable FSC standards. A certificate holder’s compliance is checked by independent, FSC-accredited certification bodies conducting regular audits.

South Africa has an approved National Forest Stewardship Standard for Plantation Forestry, and an Adapted Standard for Natural Forest Management certification. FSC also has supporting standards and procedures which aim to bring value for smallholders and low-intensity managed forests.

Chain of custody certification

Chain of custody certification applies to manufacturers, processors and traders of FSC-certified forest products. It ensures that FSC materials and products have been checked at every stage of processing, so customers purchasing products sold with FSC claims can be confident that they originate from responsibly managed forests. Any company involved in the processing or transformation of FSC-certified products (e.g. manufacturing, repackaging, pack-splitting, relabelling, cutting to size or adding other forest-based components to the product) must be FSC certified in order to apply an FSC label to their products and/ or sell them with an FSC claim.

It is possible for both a product and its packaging to be FSC certified, for example a wooden hairbrush packed in a cardboard sleeve. Alternatively, it may be that an FSC product is packed in uncertified packaging or vice versa; in cases such as these it must be made clear to which element the FSC label refers. FSC labels can include a range of product types, including ‘wood’, ‘paper’, ‘board’ and ‘packaging’. Products and packaging can carry the FSC label if it is produced using FSC-certified materials under a valid FSC chain of custody certificate.

How is the FSC certification communicated to the marketplace?

The FSC logo, the name Forest Stewardship Council and the acronym FSC are all registered trademarks. It is the responsibility of the relevant FSC-certified entity to ensure that the trademarks are used correctly. Appropriate approval should be sought for all uses of the FSC trademarks.

An FSC-certified company will have access details for the FSC Trademark Portal where they can download labels featuring their own unique licence code, along with the FSC logo for promotional use.

How do companies become FSC Chain-of-custody certified?

    Step 1: Contact FSC-accredited certification bodies (and/or small business group schemes if appropriate) to request quotes.
    Step 2: Submit a certification application to the FSC certification body of your choice.
    Step 3: Ensure that an appropriate chain of custody management system is in place, in line with the requirements of FSC-STD-40-004.
    Step 4: Undergo an on-site audit by your chosen certification body.
    Step 5: Gain certification approval and receive an FSC certification code (XXX-COC-000000) and an FSC trademark licence code (FSC-C000000).

Through responsible management of forests, the FSC certification system can help to secure a long-term source of timber, paper and other forest-based products. FSC can enable you to demonstrate your commitment to responsible forestry to your customers. As consumers and businesses seek to reduce their impact on the planet, there is growing demand for sustainable products and packaging. FSC can help you meet this demand.

Should you require assistance with the process outlines above or need further details on how the Chain of Custody applies to their Organisation, contact FSC’s Regional Coordinator, Manushka Moodley via email on m.moodley@fsc.org.


Reference Sources.

  • Webber, P. 3 Trends to Watch in Sustainable Packaging, Media Post, 2020
    Available from: https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/349485/3-trends-to-watch-in-sustainable-packaging.html [Accessed: 14 April 2020]
  • USA Environmental Protection Agency. Learn about Sustainability, 2017
    https://www.epa.gov/sustainability/learn-about-sustainability [Accessed:14 April 2020]
  • Fibre Box Association. Corrugated Packaging – An Extraordinary Recycling Success Story Available from: https://www.packagingstrategies.com/articles/95474-corrugated-packaging-and-extraordinary-recycling-success-story [Accessed:14 April 2020]
  • Globe Scan on behalf of FSC International. Global Consumer Insights , 2017
    Available from: https://ic.fsc.org/file-download.abbie-curtis-presentation.a-7508.pdf [Accessed: 6 May 2020]
  • Woolworths Limited, Statement provided

  • About FSC

    The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a global not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically prosperous management of the world’s forests. As the most trusted forest management solution, FSC was created in 1993 to help consumers and businesses identify products from well-managed forests and sets standards by which forests are certified, offering credible verification to people who are buying wood and wood products. Currently over 203 million hectares, or 16.1 percent of all production forests in the world – involving more than 140,000 forest managers – and 60,000 businesses are certified to FSC standards. For more information visit www.fsc.org

    For media requests, please contact:
    Gerard Busse, Marketing Manager – South Africa – g.busse@fsc.org

    Mobile: +27 (0) 83 795 0542

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