A diverse and highly engaged group of members and stakeholders of the Forest Stewardship Council gathered this week in Chicago for a productive, two-day meeting covering a range of important topics.  MixedWood was pleased to play a small role and we’d like to share of our observations and impressions.


FSC staff deserve lots of credit for organizing this meeting.  It is only the second time (in 20+ years) that an open meeting like this has been organized in North America.  The attendance and engaged participation speak for themselves.  Let’s do this again.

A Brief Summary

The meeting was opened & closed by Kim Carstensen – the Executive Director of FSC International and a well-known face of the organization.  His presence was appreciated by the group and helped convey the intended message that FSC, as an organization, is working hard to listen and engage with its scattered membership.  We were also impressed with the seamless way that professional staff from FSC-IC, FSC-Canada, and FSC-US collaborated with elected leaders of all three organizations to pull off a very productive session.  Our meeting was part of a series of “Regional Membership Meetings” that FSC is holding.  Others have been in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Asia.  Although discussions focused principally on the North American context, it was interesting to learn about how our interests varies and compared with colleagues in other parts of the world.


Carstensen’s introductory presentation raised a number of interesting subjects that we find interesting:

  • FSC is now claiming to represent 20% of global industrial roundwood production. This is an impressive and significant number.   It was also, probably, a difficult number to arrive at.  We’d like to know how solid it is.  Also how stable.
  • It is clear that the FSC system is still growing rapidly on a global basis. But growth is dominated by China, and the program is still shrinking slightly in North America.  No one thinks that is a healthy situation.
  • Membership in the organization remains – in our view – shocking narrow. Globally, about 1000 individuals and organizations.   To understand this properly, we can compare with more than 40,000 certificate holders.  This topic did not receive a lot of discussion but lurked in the background of several topics.


Several important accomplishments were presented and displayed by FSC-Canada and FSC-US.  This includes the National Risk Assessments (NRA) released this year by both affiliates, and the important completion of the new Forest Management (FM) standard for Canada.  The Canadian FM standard is being promoted as an opportunity for the marketplace – something we haven’t considered before but find credible.  At a minimum, the new standard reduces uncertainty for forest managers.  With luck, the new criteria will prove to be more practical and effective to implement.  Time will tell, of course, but the general sentiment seems positive.


Both FSC-US and FSC-Canada staff displayed – in various ways – an appropriate sensitivity to the enormous implementation challenge presented by the dual NRA’s for North America.  We were able to explore, discuss, and calibrate some expectations and assumptions related to this in breakout sessions and especially in the numerous side conversations during breaks and in the hallways.  The informal networking afforded by this kind of session can often be the most useful and valuable part.


Quite a lot of attention was given to the organizational preparation for the next triannual General Assembly – planned for October 2020 in Bali.  There was some wistful speculation about who would be able to travel so far, and a lot of intense and interesting discussion about how to prepare.  FSC governance remains a fascinating.  Intensively democratic, on the one hand, and frustratingly insular on the other.  A good subject for another day.


Readers will not be surprised to learn that MixedWood took special interest in a breakout session on the second day entitled “Streamlining FSC’s normative framework”.  The discussion focused mostly on the application of Risk Based Approaches (RBA) to certification processes – including standard setting, auditing, and even standard implementation.  The subject was too large for the time available – as is often the case – but we found the conversation fruitful and promising and hope to give it more attention soon.


A Job Well Done


We give FSC high marks – not just for organizing, but also for executing this event.  The sense collaborative focus maintained for 2 long days speaks highly of everyone who attended and took part.  FSC has lots and lots of hard work to do:  vexing challenges, serious barriers to cross, and confusing problems to solve.  There is a sense, though, that the project is worth doing, and worth doing well.  And that really makes a difference, doesn’t it?


After all…if it were easy, anyone could do it, right?