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Office of Sustainability and the Environment



Lumber and Wood Products

  • How do forest products become FSC-certified?
  • Environmental and Human Health Benefits
  • Cost
  • Specifications
  • Vendors and Availability
  • Resources and Websites
Within green purchasing and green building, forest certification is one of the more complex, yet critical issues, when it comes to protecting our natural forests.  The reason it is complex is because multiple forest certification programs currently exists having evolved from organizations with varying and sometimes contentious backgrounds and priorities. 

There are numerous certification programs, including the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).

Forest certification was launched over a decade ago to help protect forests from destructive logging practices.  Like the "organically grown" sticker on produce, forest certification was intended as a seal of approval -- a means of notifying consumers that a wood or paper product comes from sustainably managed forests in accordance with strict environmental and social standards. For example, a person or business shopping for flooring or furniture would seek a certified forest product to be sure that the wood was harvested in a sustainable manner from a healthy forest, and not clear cut from a tropical rainforest or the ancestral homelands of forest-dependent indigenous people. 

Increasing consumer demand for certification creates a powerful incentive for retailers and manufacturers to seek out sustainable wood suppliers. This in turn prompts forest managers to adopt ecologically sound practices that maintain natural forest characteristics, and move away from destructive techniques, such as large-scale clear cutting, logging in endangered and old-growth forests and destruction of natural forests for replacement by barren tree plantations.

How do forest products become FSC-certified?

During FSC forest-management assessments, teams of foresters, ecologists and social scientists visit forestry operations and inspect their practices for compliance with FSC's standards. For example, they assure that:
  • Harvesting rates and clearing sizes do not exceed a forest's natural capacity to regenerate
  • Natural forest conditions needed for wildlife and healthy ecosystem function are maintained
  • Rare, threatened and endangered species and forest types are maintained and protected
  • No natural forests are cleared and replaced by barren tree plantations; new plantations can be established on agricultural and pasture lands
  • Adequate conservation zones exist
  • Chemical use is minimized or eliminated
  • Streams and rivers are protected from soil erosion that degrades water quality and fish habitat
  • Workers, communities and indigenous people benefit from the forestry operation, and their rights and interests are protected.

Forestry operations that meet the standards are granted an FSC forest management certification and audited annually. Forestry operations are required to make improvements as a condition of getting certified and staying certified over time.

Certifiers also grant "chain-of-custody" certifications to companies that manufacture and sell products made out of certified wood. A chain-of-custody assessment tracks wood from the forest through milling and manufacturing to the point of sale. This annual assessment ensures that products sold as certified actually originate in certified forests.

There's a growing trend in the forestry business to grow and use FSC-certified wood. Some of the largest wood and paper products companies in the world, including Potlatch Corporation in the United States, Stora Enso in Sweden, and Domtar Forest Resources and Tembec, Inc. in Canada, are FSC-certified.

Environmental and Human Health Benefits

Forests are more than a symbolic ideal of wilderness, more than quiet places to enjoy nature. Healthy forest ecosystems -- trees, soil, undergrowth, all living things in a forest -- are critical to maintaining life on earth.  Yet more than half of the earth's original forest cover has been destroyed due to human activity such as agriculture, development and logging. Much of the loss has occurred within the past three decades. Protecting the earth's remaining forest cover is now an urgent task.

Forests help us breathe by creating oxygen and filtering pollutants from the air, and help stabilize the global climate by absorbing carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. They soak up rainfall like giant sponges, preventing floods and purifying water that we drink. They provide habitat for 90 percent of the plant and animal species that live on land, as well as homelands for many of the earth's last remaining indigenous cultures.


FSC-certified wood products are typically 0-15% more expensive than their non-certified counterparts. Bear in mind that the cost of lumber for any project is generally much less than 10% of the total project cost, so specifying certified lumber is likely to add only a fraction of 1% to the total project cost. Because the market for FSC lumber fluctuates even more than conventional lumber markets, it is prudent to give as much lead time in ordering it as possible.


The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) runs a credible forest certification program. The FSC is an independent, international nonprofit organization whose membership is comprised of more than 500 environmental groups, progressive companies, forestry professionals, social scientists and groups representing labor, church and indigenous people's interests. Formed in 1993, the FSC has established a set of international forest management standards; it also accredits and monitors certification organizations that evaluate on-the-ground compliance with these standards in forests around the world.

FSC's "Principles and Criteria for Forest Stewardship" set forth strict environmental and social standards for forest management. In order to address societal and ecological differences in countries around the world, these standards are refined through national or regional processes involving local forestry, environmental and social stakeholders.

Always ask for FSC-certified wood and look for the FSC logo, which depicts a checkmark and the outline of a tree.

Vendors and Availability

FSC-certified products are not always readily available in stores, but consumers can help increase their supply in the future by expressing a clear preference for them when shopping for lumber, flooring, furniture, paper and other wood products.  For construction and remodeling projects, planning ahead and ordering FSC-certified wood is recommended.

Royal Plywood Company

Cerritos, CA



The Home Depot is the largest retailer of FSC certified lumber and wood products.

Lumber dealers, wood products manufacturers, woodworkers and paper producers across the country sell certified forest products directly to consumers. (See the Resources section to locate sources of FSC-certified wood and paper products.) Companies are encouraged to mark all their FSC-certified products with a label; however, many products still reach the market without on-product identification. Consumers seeking proof of FSC certification claims by suppliers may request copies of FSC certificates and/or their associated tracking numbers. Certified supplier names and certified supply tracking numbers can be verified on the FSC website.

Resources and Websites

Green Building Resource Center - located right here in Santa Monica at 2218 Main Street, is a project of Global Green USA.  Nothing beats seeing green building materials in person and receiving hands-on advice from green building professionals.  This resource center displays environmentally friendly building materials, offers lots of free resources, conducts on-going workshops, and provides technical resources.

United States Green Building Council – tons of great information on their website, including the role of certified wood and lumber products in achieving LEED certifications.

The Forest Stewardship Council - homepage of the only credible forest certification program.

Smartwood was the world’s first independent forestry certifier and is accredited by FSC to provide clients with certification and auditing services.

Certification Resource Center -- a convenient way to find certified wood and paper suppliers by product and location. Be sure to select "FSC" in the field for "certification program." -- an online paper store where you can find several brands of FSC-certified paper for home and office use by searching for "FSC".

Footprints in the Forest -- a report (and summary) by FERN, the European Union forest campaign, on weak certification programs.

The Forest Stewardship Council and Forest Products Solutions has released “Designing and Building with FSC”, an excellent guide designed to help building owners and green building professionals specify, build and account for the use of FSC-certified products.



Last updated: Tuesday, 06/15/2010
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