What’s all the FuSC about?
Knowing your certification marks is a good start to making responsible choices around the timber and paper products you buy
The recent, very public stoush between Greenpeace and Cottonsoft over the latter’s alleged rainforest timber used to make its toilet paper has brought the issue of wood and paper use by consumers into sharp focus.
“Greenpeace accuses Cottonsoft of greenwashing” screamed the media release from Greenpeace. The company counterclaimed that Greenpeace had used inaccurate testing methods. The Green Party and WWF joined the fray in support of Greenpeace’s methodology, then The Warehouse suspended sales of all Cottonsoft products.
Unsurprisingly, the company came out swinging, citing their PEFC certification, and stating: “This means that Cottonsoft products do not contain any high conservation value wood, which is fully protected under Indonesian law.” Given that Indonesia has one of the fastest rates of forest destruction in the world, with more than one million hectares of rainforest being cleared every year, these claims sound tenuous at best. If the independent lab that tested the sample products supplied by Greenpeace are valid, then either Cottonsoft is not playing by the rules or the PEFC certification is meaningless.
Greenpeace clearly believes the latter with no PEFC products recommended as safe in their “Rainforest Friendly Toilet Paper Guide.”
This affair poses questions about the value of PEFC and other competing certifications, and highlights some of the dilemmas faced by conscious consumers, bewildered by what they all mean.
The issue of sustainability of timber is complicated because it is not just about whether the trees are replanted after harvesting, but also encompasses a host of other considerations such as the use of insecticides, loss of habitat, species destruction, and the rights of indigenous landowners to name just a few.
We live in a culture that both produces and consumes vast amounts of timber in a range of products and forms, so it seems logical to examine the existing standards in the industry, and take a look at the wider issue, with all its ramifications. Deforestation of tropical rainforest became a global concern in the 1980s as environmentalists and governments realised their pivotal role in protecting biodiversity and regulating the earth’s atmosphere.
At the time, a number of economic and regulatory mechanisms such as financial aid, policy frameworks and trade conventions were the sole weapons in the fight against deforestation.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was established in 1993 after the Rio Earth Summit, at which governments failed to reach agreement relating to management strategies for remaining virgin forests. As such, it represents one of the first examples of harnessing market sentiment to create positive change on global environmental issues.
But since then, a range of other certification systems have appeared, with differing criteria for compliance. These include SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) and American Tree Farm System (ATFS) in North America, and PEFC (Programme for Certification of Forest Schemes) which started in Europe and is now global.
They each attempt to address issues such as illegal logging, deforestation and climate change and seek to assuage consumer fears about the origins of the timber in the products they buy. FSC is the most stringent of them, with accredited suppliers having to meet a range of standards. The idea of the FSC logo is to guarantee that the products bearing its mark come from “environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable sources.” FSC is the only forest certification system that is supported by almost all major environmental groups. FSC is also the only certification scheme approved for credits in the Green Building Rating Systems of all of the Green Building Councils of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, UK, and USA.
Glen Mackie, senior policy analyst from the NZ Forest Owners association states: “PEFC has virtually no uptake in NZ whereas 52 per cent of New Zealand forests are FSC certified. Despite the relatively high cost of compliance, there isn’t any price premium to be gained by certification, though it does offer access to markets that are closed to non-certified product. A good example of this is the big box US stores which will only buy FSC paper and cardboard.” He admits to the problems caused by competing standards. Mark Stevens from global paper giant SCA/Tork says: “In New Zealand we have chosen to go with FSC certification for 80 per cent of the Tork range and all of the Purex range, because we believe the fact that is independent, and it is a globally consistent standard gives it more rigour.”
Another excellent option for consumers is to buy products which are produced entirely from recycled paper or wood waste. ABC Tissue, which produces the Earthcare range of toilet paper, is one of the heavyweights in this area, using over 42,000 tonnes of recycled paper each year – an initiative which saves massive amounts of water and energy in the production process.