Buying locally produced, FSC-certified wood products
Why's locally grown timber better?
Certified timber sourced from the UK and Europe is less likely to have been harvested in ways that destroy virgin forest and contribute to human rights violations than wood from further away, although proximity alone is no guarantee of sustainability. The closer wood is grown to your home, the less transport is needed to bring it from the forest. So this reduces the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced, which is the main cause of climate change.
You can see if it's local by checking our A-Z of different types of wood.
If you do need to buy new timber, selecting Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified products is the best option currently available.
What's FSC certification?
FSC is a widely recognised, voluntary certification scheme for timber and timber products (including paper and bamboo).
Set up in the early 1990s, the theory behind FSC is that it certifies forests adhering to environmental and social criteria, and gives the public confidence that the wood, furniture and paper products they buy haven't damaged the environment.
However, the scheme hasn't been without its troubles. And because it's voluntary and run by industry, there's little independent oversight and scrutiny, and no legal requirements or sanctions on companies failing to comply with the standards.
Since 2008, Friends of the Earth no longer proactively recommends FSC because of a number of cases of controversial certifications that didn't guarantee high environmental and social standards. A number of organisations that were originally part of the FSC have now withdrawn, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and FERN.
It seems that despite the plethora of FSC-certified products, forest management practices worldwide haven't significantly improved, although in some cases higher working standards for employees and somewhat better conservation practices are now in place.
Despite its failings however, FSC is still the most credible certification scheme available. In the absence of anything more robust, we therefore recommend using FSC-certified products as a last resort if other options aren’t available (see below).
Types of FSC certification
There are 3 main types of FSC certification:
- FSC 100% – fully complies with FSC certification criteria.
- FSC Recycled – comes from recycled sources.
- FSC Mix – contains a proportion of wood or paper that has come from simply "controlled" rather than forest management certified sources,
Our advice for buying wood products
- Repair or upcycle existing wooden furniture if you can.
- Choose reclaimed or pre-loved wooden furniture (eBay, Gumtree and local buy and sell Facebook groups are good places to look) or recycled timber for DIY projects.
- Support local wood recycling stores, which can supply timber and furniture.
- If buying new wood and wood products, look for FSC 100% wood. Choose products from UK or EU sources, where forestry practices tend to be better regulated by governments.
- Avoid products made with tropical wood (even if FSC-certified), and avoid FSC Mix.
- Avoid the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) label – this isn't currently a reliable guarantee of a high level of environmental and social performance.
Our advice for buying paper products
- Choose recycled paper products wherever possible – these are now widely available, from toilet roll to notebooks and printer paper.
- Try to avoid paper made with virgin pulp, even if certified (including FSC 100% and FSC Mix). That also goes for some products marketed as sustainable, like bamboo toilet roll.
- If recycled paper isn't available, choose FSC 100%.
Our advice to companies sourcing wood
Friends of the Earth wants to see companies move away from the reliance on certification schemes for wood and paper products, and a wholesale shift in practice to re-using and recycling wood and paper products. This is something governments should be supporting through the circular economy approach.
For companies that still need to source large amounts of virgin wood or fibre, we suggest not simply relying on certification but also carrying out your own due diligence investigations to ensure no illegal deforestation or human rights abuses are taking place, particularly when sourcing from high-risk regions with weak democracies and low civil society engagement.