Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from Anna Jenkins, Director, Forest Stewardship Council UK Working Group

  FSC UK is aware that other organisations are preparing submissions giving opinions on the Government's implementation of its timber procurement policy. The comments below do not seek to unnecessarily repeat comments, as far as we are aware, made by other organisations.

  This submission will address the following points:

  1.  What is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) system of certification and how does it work?

  2.  Was an FSC certified alternative to Sapele available for the cabinet office doors?

  3.  Is there really little or no supply of FSC wood?

  4.  The development of the forest certification system for domestically produced timber.

  1.  FSC is an independent, global, non-profit, non-governmental organisation. It is an association of Members founded by a diverse group of representatives from environmental and social groups, the timber trade and forestry profession, manufacturers and retailers, indigenous people's organisations, community forestry groups and forest product certification organisations from around the world. Membership is open to all who share its aims and objectives.

  It provides an umbrella organisation and structure within which qualified independent certifiers, operating their own national or international certification schemes, can operate according to clear guidelines and using agreed global standards covering social, environmental and economic aspects of forest management drawn up by professionals in forestry as well as in ecology and in rural and social development. Once certified, timber and timber-based products originating from that forest or woodland are eligible to carry the FSC Trademark, thus identifying the products as coming from FSC certified forests. Only products which are so certified are legally authorised to carry the FSC Trademark.

  FSC therefore provides an incentive in the marketplace for good forestry practice. The system operates globally and can be applied to any forest in the world.

Why was FSC formed?

  FSC was formed to provide consumers, both at the general public and retailer, manufacturing and large scale procurement levels, with reliable information about forest products. Growing public concern about the destruction of the world's forests has provoked more and more organisations to demand products from well managed forests. This, in turn, led to a proliferation of forest product certification systems and many dubious or false claims made on forest products. FSC aims to clear up the confusion by providing a truly independent, international and credible labelling system on timber and timber products. This provides the consumer with a guarantee that the product has come from a forest which has been evaluated and certified as being managed according to agreed social and environmental principles and criteria.

When was it formed?

  In September 1993 in Toronto, 130 representatives from around the world representing social, economic and environmental interests came together to hold the Founding Assembly of the Forest Stewardship Council. In October 1993 an agreement was reached to launch FSC, and by August 1994 a definitive global set of Principles and Criteria for Forest Stewardship, together with Statutes for the Council, were agreed and approved by the votes of the Founding Members.

Who runs FSC?

  It is controlled by an elected Board which consists of people from environmental, social and economic chambers, ie from industry, conservation groups, indigenous people's representatives and others. Voting amongst the membership is balanced between the three chambers.

How does FSC operate?

  FSC evaluates, accredits and monitors independent certification organisations which inspect forest operations and grant labels certifying that timber has been produced from well managed forests. FSC does not itself certify products; its mandate is to accredit and monitor the certifiers.

  There are National Working Groups operating in a number of countries including the UK, which interpret the FSC Principles and Criteria in an appropriate manner for the local forest types and conditions. These groups have to present an agreed set of national or regional standards to be used for independent certification of forests in their particular countries. In addition the FSC UK Working Group promotes FSC in the UK, runs a comprehensive information service and helpline (open to civil servants too) to assist businesses, local authorities, foresters and the general public to apply and understand certification and source the FSC products they are looking for.

What is Certification?

  Certification is the process of inspecting particular forests or woodland to see if they are being managed according to the FSC Principles and Criteria.

Who does the Certifying?

  Certification is done by the independent organisations which are evaluated, accredited and monitored by FSC (11 around the world at the current time). They must have the skills, experience and resources to inspect forest operations to ensure that they are well managed according to the rules laid down by FSC.

What happens between the forest and the shop/supplier?

  There is a monitoring and tracking system, known as a "chain of custody", in place through every stage in the supply chain, operated by the certification bodies. A separate chain of custody certificate is issued each time it passes from one stage to the next. The product label will identify the certification body responsible for the chain of custody.

  Chain of custody is the assurance that a buyer or specifier really is getting what they asked for: timber from well-managed forests (FSC does not use the term "sustainable" as there are many different definitions and most importantly it does not believe that the term can applied without a retrospective view as what we might believe to be "sustainable" today may not prove to be so several years down the line).

  To be certain that FSC timber was supplied for a building contract for example the installing and supplying contractors would need to have a chain of custody.

Who supports FSC?

  FSC is the only worldwide organisation offering an independent, credible timber certification scheme for all forest types and plantations, and as such has already received endorsement and active commitment from a wide range of respected NGOs, including WWF, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Fauna & Flora International, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Overseas, indigenous peoples' groups actively support FSC. It is the only system of certification in the world to have the active support of such NGOs. Here in Britain, FSC has the support of a large and growing number of companies, using both home grown and imported timber, who want to be able to demonstrate to their customers that they are taking a pro-active and responsible attitude to improving the environmental performance of their company.

  2.  An FSC certified alternative to Sapele was available to the contractors to the cabinet office refurbishment had they specified it. We made enquiries to the timber supplier Timbmet who told us that either "Jatoba", "Red Cambara" or "Santa Maria" would have made good substitutes for Sapele. All are FSC certified tropical timbers, Jatoba in particular is most available in large commercial quantities. It is important that contact is made with timber suppliers early on in the contract so that FSC certified timber can be sourced in time, in this case Jatoba would have been available immediately but often some extra lead time is needed to find FSC timber.

  Specifiers need to be open to alternatives that they may not have heard of before but that the timber supplier can advise on the working properties.

  3.  There is an enormous availability of FSC certified timber now, although this is not comprehensive over all timber types and countries of origin. Suppliers of UK grown timber have reported frequently that they do not perceive enough supply (UK Forest Products Association). Other suppliers in the UK have spent a year trying to sell FSC certified plywood and a very low or non-existent price premium.

  Greenpeace have reported that companies in the Amazon would like to become FSC certified but do not perceive enough demand. There therefore seems to a classic chicken and egg situation perpetuated by on-going myths that there is no certified material available so therefore best not to bother even asking. We strongly urge the Government to ask for FSC certified timber. Without such a demand supply will never be forthcoming.

  4.  Below is a history of the certification standards setting process in the UK:

    (a)  The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) oversees a system of forest certification and product labelling. It is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation founded in 1993 by a diverse group of representatives from environmental, social and economic groups from around the world. It is committed to bridging the gap between responsible producers and consumers of forest products worldwide, and membership is open to all who share its aims and objectives. There are now more than 20 million hectares of FSC certified forest around the world (Jan 2001 figures).

    (b)  The FSC UK Working Group was set up in 1995 and has developed a FSC GB Standard for forest management according to FSC technical and process guidelines.

    (c)  The FSC GB Standard was endorsed by the FSC International Board at their September 1998 meeting. It is the Standard that FSC accredited certification bodies working in Great Britain are required to use.

    (d)  The FSC UK Working Group was satisfied that a sufficient range of views had been taken into account in the development of the GB Standard but there were still several significant producer and processor industry groups which had not taken part in the process. The FSC UK Group recognised this as an area in which extra effort was required and explored various ways of involving this important group of stakeholders.

    (e)  In late 1997 the Forestry Commission offered to provide a neutral forum in which the FSC Group and those not involved in FSC could meet to see if a mutually acceptable approach to certification in the UK could be developed. This offer was accepted and a series of meetings of all interested parties followed.

    (f)  In early 1998 the Forestry Commission presented a report on the gaps between the UK Government Forestry Standard and the FSC requirements. It was agreed that the remaining gaps between the two documents could be filled so that a standard could be prepared that met the requirements of both the FSC and the FC.

    (g)  Between February 1998 and September 1998 a drafting and consultation process was carried out by the Forestry Commission. The consultants contracted to draft UKWAS were a consortium made up of SGS, The Soil Association, Simon Pryor and William Walker. The FSC UK Steering Group and Standards Group were fully involved in this process. In addition to the timber growers and processors, UKWAS also brought in trade union and local government representation which had been weak in the FSC UK process. All interested FSC Members were involved.

    (h)  In December 1998 the FSC UK Annual Members Meeting passed a motion welcoming the UKWAS process while still awaiting the detail of the final text before formally endorsing it as entirely compatible with the FSC GB Standard.

    (i)  In May 1999 the FSC UK Steering Group and Standards Group met to prepare a response UKWAS. The differences between the UKWAS Standard and FSC Standard for GB were discussed. The final text appeared to be compatible with the FSC GB Standard. The structure is different from the FSC P&C but the requirements of the FSC GB Standard are all included in some form. It was agreed that some minor alterations to the FSC GB Standard and expanding its scope to become a FSC UK Standard, should be made so that full compatibility with UKWAS is achieved. In addition a Cross Reference Document was produced to allow for quick comparison between the FSC UK Standard, the UKWAS Standard and the FSC P&C. The Cross Reference Document also highlights areas where particular care is needed in the interpretation of UKWAS in order to deliver the FSC Standard as well as areas the FSC UK Working Group wish to see carefully monitored by certification bodies to assist with future revisions of the FSC UK Standard.

    (j)  In July 1999 the FSC UK Annual Members Meeting passed a motion approving the FSC UK Standards Group working on the members behalf. The members present approved the proposed changes to the Standard and that they did not need to be further consulted regarding this set of changes to the Standard. UKWAS is welcomed by the FSC UK Steering Group because of the wider consensus it has brought to certification within the UK without compromising the standards required by FSC.

    (k)  In September 1999 a meeting was held of stakeholders in Northern Ireland to ensure that they were happy with the new FSC UK Standard. The Standard was approved unanimously.

    (l)  The UKWAS Standard, FSC UK Standard and the Cross Reference Document were presented to the FSC secretariat in Mexico in October 1999. In doing this FSC UK sought verification that the two standards were equivalent.

    (m)  Following the October 1999 FSC Board meeting, the FSC secretariat endorsed the new FSC UK Standard. FSC Executive Director Tim Synnott further issued a statement recognising that the UKWAS and the FSC-endorsed UK Forest Management Standards are fully equivalent in all elements, including quality and performance requirements. Compliance with either Standard will assure equal compliance with the other. The two Standards remain separate documents, but the FSC trademark may be used by those who meet the UKWAS Standard when supported by certificates from FSC-accredited certification bodies.

    (n)  Update January 2001: The UKWAS Steering Group meets at least three times a year and includes four FSC UK representatives as well as many other FSC members. The Steering Group works by consensus only. UKWAS has an interpretation panel with two experts each from the environmental, social and economic sectors. In addition there is a Chairman—Simon Pryor—who is an FSC UK representative. John Palmer, Chair of the FSC UK Standards Group, sits on the interpretation panel as an advisor but has no vote. It should be noted the UKWAS is only a standard. There is no provision for a UKWAS labelling scheme; the Standard was designed to fit into international labelling systems. At the moment UKWAS can only deliver the FSC label.

  In 1999 a request was made to the UKWAS Steering Group by the Timber Growers Association (as the UK Pan European Forest Certification Scheme (PEFC) observer on the PEFC Council) to submit the UKWAS Standard to the PEFC Council for endorsement. Discussions have taken place since as to whether this should take place. A year ago Wildlife and Countryside Link, the body representing environmental NGOs on the UKWAS Steering Group, wrote to PEFC UK asking some questions about the PEFC scheme. There are still some questions remaining unanswered. As yet therefore there is no consensus agreement in the UKWAS Steering Group that the UKWAS Standard should be submitted to the PEFC Council. The concerns are mainly, although not exclusively, from environmental and social representatives; discussions are unlikely to proceed further until the outstanding questions sent to PEFC UK are answered. FSC UK does not oppose the submission of UKWAS Standard to the PEFC Council.

May 2002

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