An Introduction To Wood Certifications

 Deforestation has a huge environmental impact and it can be difficult to tell if the wood in items we purchase are contributing to this unfolding disaster. 

If you’re concerned about the provenance (origin) of wood you buy – whether the wood is in furniture, lumber or even the wood used to make paper goods; looking for certifications might provide you with some reassurance.
A product containing certified wood is one where the wood used has been verified as harvested in a sustainable way – including the impact of the harvesting on the surrounding environment in terms of protecting the biodiversity of an area, erosion control and preserving water resources. 

The certification usually also has some social justice aspects in terms of the way workers in associated forestry operations are treated and the impact on local/indigenous communities.
Chain of Custody

Something you’ll often see mentioned in relation to certified wood is Chain of Custody (CoC). This relates to tracking certified raw materials from a forest right through to the final product to ensure that the wood contained in the end product still meets certification criteria. Without this form of tracking, a product may just have a small component that comes from a certified forest and consumers could be misled into believing the product was 100% certified wood.

Probably the best known certification systems are from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), the latter incorporating a number of programs around the world. 

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

The FSC describes their certification as being:

“..a voluntary, market-based tool that supports responsible forest management worldwide. FSC certified forest products are verified from the forest of origin through the supply chain. The FSC label ensures that the forest products used are from responsibly harvested and verified sources.”

10 principles and 56 associated criteria form the basis for all Forest Stewardship Council forest management standards. They include:

– Conversion of forests or any other natural habitat is prohibited
– International workers rights must be respected
– A ban on the use of hazardous chemicals
– The rights of indigenous peoples must be respected
– Bribery and other forms of corruption prohibited
– Appropriate management of areas requiring special protection

Companies participating in the program are able to display an FSC logo:


On the actual product, below the logo will be a serial code assigned to the supplier/company. The code can be verified via the FSC online database.

One of several different certifications should also appear on goods displaying the FSC certifications – 100%, Recycled or Mixed.

Products displaying the “100%” must have all the wood components originating from FSC certified forests. 

The “Recycled” certification means the product has a minimum of 85% of the wood fiber content coming from post-consumer sources. The remaining material must be verified as pre-consumer waste.

“Mixed” means the product has a mix of fiber from FSC Certified forests, plus recycled content and/or from “controlled” sources – i.e. harvesting operations not certified, but verified not to be engaging in the most destructive of forestry practices.
So, given all that, you would expect any product bearing a valid FSC certification to be a tree-hugger’s dream. However, like any program, the system reportedly has its share of problems – but how much truth is in what I’ve read I really can’t say.
As mentioned, the Forest Stewardship Council certification isn’t the only game in town.
Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)
PEFC claims to be the world’s largest forest certification system. It’s an umbrella organization endorsing 30 national forest certification programs. Its members include:

– Australian Forestry Standard 
– PEFC Canada
– PEFC United States

Over 244 million hectares of forestry operations have been certified under the PEFC umbrella. National systems wishing to be recognized by the PEFC must undergo “rigorous independent assessment to ensure their compliance with PEFC’s Sustainability Benchmark,” a set of over 300 criteria.

The PEFC certification logo looks like this:


It should also be accompanied by a serial number assigned to the company/product displaying it, which can be verified here. The mark may also be accompanied by that of the organization under the PEFC umbrella, e.g. the Australian Forestry Standard logo.
As with the FSC, the PEFC also has its share of issues it would seem; but in either case it needs to be weighed up if the downfalls overshadow the overall good achieved through the programs – something I haven’t researched enough to offer an informed opinion. The most common criticism I’ve seen is standards not being applied in practice.
No doubt other certifications exist, but whether it’s FSC, PEFC or some other mark; read up on the program and check other sources to ensure you’re comfortable with how the certification operates before making a purchase decision based on a product proclaiming it is made from certified wood. After all, you’ll likely be paying a premium for that product.
Also be sure to verify that the product or vendor is legitimately displaying such a certification.