When our third-party certification programs for forestry and forest-based products were invented about 25 years ago, they tested a promising and new idea.  The idea was to employ and leverage the powerful influence of markets and commerce for promoting and encouraging the responsible, sustainable use of the world’s forests.  In the beginning, it wasn’t clear whether this idea was any good or not.  We know now, of course.  It turned out to be a terrific idea.  Today FSC, PEFC, SFI are established and stable organizations that exert a powerful influence on the world of wood product sourcing and manufacture.  That influence was won by working inside the marketplace.  A powerful and challenging idea.

This applies equally to all three of the programs that we work with and write about.  But their relationships with the commercial marketplace are not the same.   PEFC and SFI have always embraced the core, marketplace relationships that their programs rely on.  FSC, despite its greater overall success, has never been entirely comfortable with the fact that its core business model depends on collaboration inside commodity marketplaces.  The cold, dispassionate world of business has never been an easy place for the FSC true believers.

A Policy Approach

We see evidence of this discomfort in the FSC Policy for Association (PfA).  It is a requirement that FSC applied to both certified companies and member organizations (like MixedWood) many years ago.  Essentially, it is a policy commitment to make a formal statement to not participate in certain “unacceptable activities”.  These include a short list of vaguely defined items, including:

  1. Illegal logging
  2. Human rights violations
  3. Destruction of forests with “High Conservation Values”
  4. Significant forest conversion
  5. GMO use
  6. Respect for the ILO Core Conventions

As a practical matter, certified companies are expected to sign a self-declaration document committing to these principles.  More importantly, when companies are occasionally challenged as bad actors, these principals form the basis for censure or occasional expulsion.  This last process has been thankfully rare and predictably messy, as well as the subject of a great deal of angst over the years.

Revision of the PfA

We’re writing about this subject because FSC is currently revising the Policy for Association and soliciting public comments from stakeholders.   As is usually the case, the new policy is significantly longer and more complex than the last.  More importantly, it promises to change the very nature of FSC in ways that we find disappointing and even a bit offensive.  Rather than simply requiring declarations of agreement with a common set of principles, FSC proposes to pre-screen newly-certified and re-certifying companies to determine if they are suitable for association with the organization.

MixedWood’s comments to FSC

As always, we think FSC gets far too little constructive feedback from the community of certified companies on important subjects like this.  If you are reading this article, you clearly share our interest in this topic.  You should share it with FSC.  You can read details about the PfA revision here, and access the FSC Consultation Forum directly.  You can click here to see a copy of MixedWood’s comments which we submitted today.  Whether you agree with us or not, please share your perspective with FSC.

Why this matters?

FSC is an organization of members and voluntary stakeholders.  It is not a regulatory body.  MixedWood is proud to be among its active members.  A “Policy for Association” should be a statement of shared principles and a framework for holding each other accountable to those principles.  This revised PfA draft is an enforcement document that we think is unworthy of FSC.  It seems designed to reinforce all the things that we dislike about FSC (disconnected, arbitrary, bureaucratic decision-making), and diminish the things we like (transparent, collaborative, inclusion, and accountability).

Do you agree?  Disagree?  Either way, FSC needs to hear from you.  Please share your views.