FSC: Forest Stewardship Council is probably the best known forest certification system, at least among regular consumers. And all surveys show that brand recognition is on the increase as is both the public trust in and appreciation for the very strict requirements FSC sets. It has been criticized for a “one size fit all” approach, but there is no question about the result—extremely well managed forests with a focus on the entire forest ecology.

For a long time, FSC was the only program recognized by the LEED green building program, although a pilot study is under way considering a new credit category for wood defined as “legal.” This LEED recognition has been a huge driving force to develop the demand for FSC wood. In fact, LEED recognition and consumer awareness of the FSC brand is probably why we have over 31,000 companies around the world that hold an FSC Chain of Custody certificate—companies theoretically prepared to produce or carry on FSC certified material. (I say theoretically because limited supply means unfortunately that not all actually do stock and sell FSC regularly.)

In comparison, only about 18,000 companies have hold a PEFC CoC.

What about forests? PEFC claims more than 300 million hectares of certified forests, while FSC has just under 200 million. (Some of that is overlapping certification, particularly in Europe.)

In any case, nearly 500 million hectares of certified forests sounds good, but together, under both programs and all other programs around the world, only approximately 10% of the world’s commercial forests are certified. There is just so such a limited supply of certified raw material, far less than the potential market demand.

The differences between the various certification systems is narrowing, mostly as many of the PEFC programs move closer to the FSC model. FSC has always focused on more than just sustainability and PEFC now also includes a consideration of social issues. FSC also continues to evolve with more emphasis on all aspects of corporate behavior.

Elizabeth Baldwin has over 20 years of international wood sourcing experience. Very widely traveled, her résumé's "Special Skills" section includes "the ability to eat anything from raw horse to deep-fried scorpion." She serves as Metropolitan Hardwood Flooring's (metrofloors.com) ECO (Environmental Compliance Officer) and deals daily with the "green alphabet soup" of today's industry: FSC, CARB, LEED, and much more. She blogs for Hardwood Floors on all things green (and, as she says, " 'grey' and 'blue' and almost every color except 'black and white.' Nothing in this world is black and white, particularly not 'green issues.'")