A Look Into Our Toolbox:
Forest Stewardship Council Certification

Forests are a focal point at Domini. They’re crucial to environmental and social systems, and they play an important role in combating climate change. Forest preservation ties in with our goals of universal human dignity and ecological sustainability, and our research process reflects that.

Most tropical deforestation is driven by just four commodities: palm oil, beef, soy, and wood products. We look closely at forest management practices in the supply chains of companies connected to these commodities because of the meaningful impact they have on forests.

Supply chains are complex and involve many steps, from farm to distribution to sale. They can be difficult to fully trace and verify, so that’s where certification schemes come in. Certifiers set detailed standards and then conduct audits, assessing companies’ management practices and supply chain operations. One particular certification that informs our research process is the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) certifications. FSC’s focus on companies in forest-product-intensive industries and subindustries—including hospitality, real estate, household products and others—helps us understand which companies are making efforts to source wood and timber products sustainably and responsibly.

When the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil failed to achieve a global agreement, a multi-stakeholder group of businesses, environmentalists, and community leaders knew that other measures were needed to help stop deforestation. The FSC was established in 1993 and has developed an accreditation system with clear expectations and a worldwide standard, which is complemented by additional expectations for specific forests at the national or sub-national levels. It certifies areas of forests and offers chain-of-custody certifications, indicating a product’s supply chain complied with its standards, which companies can indicate to consumers through one of three labels: FSC 100%, FSC Recycled, and FSC Mix.1

Many NGOs and firms recognize the FSC as the most credible and effective forestry certification scheme. It’s important that the FSC accounts for different forest priorities—balancing the need for forest management that is environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable. Its standards address forests’ biodiversity, productivity, and ecological processes; the longevity of forest resources and their role in communities that live in and depend on forests; and the profitability of forests without compromising environmental or social aspects. One of its main strengths involves its multi-stakeholder governance approach, providing equal voices to economic, social, and environmental groups. It also has a permanent Indigenous Peoples Committee, a global advisory committee of Indigenous representatives that advises the FSC International Board, and requires all forest owners and managers to uphold the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).

The FSC is among the best certifications available, but we’re mindful that it is not perfect. There are certain deforestation concerns that it doesn’t fully address, nor does it provide adequate solutions for communities harmed by forestry-related activities. Community groups have raised these concerns, recommending areas for improvement to strengthen its credibility, like the full traceability of forest materials, enforcement of its standards, access to remedy for those affected by past forest conversion, and the independence of its auditing system.

The FSC certification is part of our research process, so we have a stake in understanding how it works, how it is addressing these critiques, and how we can encourage improvements. We have engaged directly with the FSC to understand and strengthen the certification, and recognize its leadership in expanding its impact on forest management, ecosystem services, and communities.

1. https://us.fsc.org/preview.fsc-chain-of-custody-101.a-774.pdf