Look around your home and you’ll start to notice the “FSC Certified” mark on common paper-based products—tissues, cereal boxes, paper towels, notebooks. Some of your favorite products may be FSC Certified or come in FSC Certified packaging even though they’re not stamped with the symbol. Even Allbirds can claim FSC Certified status. How’s that for carbon footprint?

At its core, the FSC Certified symbol indicates that a package or product was made from FSC Certified wood harvested from responsibly managed forests. The organization has a reputation for operating the most rigorous forest certification program in the world.

The Forest Stewardship Council

FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council, a non-profit organization founded in 1993 to protect forests across the globe for future generations. Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Bonn, Germany, the member-led group works with local communities on public and private lands to maintain forest management standards that protect water quality, old-growth forests, forest cover, and prevent hazardous chemicals.

Wildlife and humans depend on forests, so when they’re managed poorly, entire ecosystems are thrown out of balance. As humans deplete forests, biodiversity decreases while erosion accelerates, and polluted water increases.

The organization also provides certification to companies who use building materials or produce products and packaging from responsibly managed forests. They offer a variety of certifications affecting many entities in paper and wood supply chains, including Forest Management Certification, Family Forests Certification, and Chain of Custody Certification.

FSC Certification Logos

Before a package arrives on your doorstep, the materials used to create that package undergo a complicated, multi-step process. If it’s made of paper, it starts in a forest (even when it’s 100% recycled).

The cut trees then travel to the paper mill where wood becomes FSC Certified paper, FSC Certified corrugated boxes, or paper pulp. A lot can happen along the way. Virgin wood could become virgin paper, or it could be mixed-in with recycled material. FSC has a label for almost every scenario.

The three main labels issued by the FSC.
  • FSC 100% Label: These products are made of 100% virgin material from FSC-certified forests.
  • FSC Mix Label: These products are a mixture of FSC virgin fiber and/or recycled materials with Controlled virgin fiber. The recycling symbol in the top left corner indicates the amount of pre- and post-consumer recycled fiber.
  • FSC Recycled Label: These products are made from 100% recycled fiber. The recycling symbol in the top left corner indicates the amount of pre- and post-consumer recycled fiber.

Curious about all those icons on your box? Check out our breakdown of the some of the most common green packaging symbols.

logging vehicle hauling lumber in forest
The FSC regulates forests across the world, ensuring that land owners adhere to strict environmental standards resulting FSC Certified wood.

Is Your Packaging FSC Certified?

If a package doesn’t have one of the FSC marks, it can be difficult to know if it’s actually FSC Certified. Many FSC Certified paper packaging providers use certified materials, but don’t advertise it on their boxes. Some manufacturers may not even know they use FSC Certified materials.

In packaging, the chain of custody can be longer than you think, and at any point, material from non-FSC Certified sources might be mixed in. Your best option: Ask your supplier. They should know their chain of custody and will be able to prove their FSC Certified materials. If they don’t use FSC Certified materials, demand that they do. Currently, FSC Certified materials are readily available at competitive prices.

How to Become FSC Certified

Forest managers, lumber mills, paper mills, manufacturers, or companies can become FSC Certified. Essentially, companies can certify a product or material, package, or product-package combo. There are two types of certification, Forest Management and Chain of Custody.

While the two FSC certification processes are similar, FSC packaging certification generally falls within Chain of Custody.

  1. Contact an FSC-accredited Certification Body. As a non-profit organization, FSC uses third-party certifiers to maintain integrity.
  2. The certification body will assign a case manager who will guide you through the process, help you determine the type of certificate (FSC label), and provide a quote.
  3. Ensure that all company procedures, materials, and staff are ready for certification.
  4. The certification body will conduct an on-site audit where they will observe manufacturing procedures, staff, and documents to confirm that your company is following FSC guidelines.
  5. The certification analyzes their findings and drafts a detailed report for your company.
  6. Finally, the certification body issues your official FSC certificate.
  7. Once certified, you can begin using the FSC Certified label according to the organization’s standards.

As long as you’re following FSC guidelines, third-party certification bodies specialize in making the process simple and transparent. The benefits of FSC certification are immense, and your consumers value that you’re following rigorous environmental standards recognized around the world.

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