FSC Sweden: “I wish we had more backbone”

The myth of sustainable FSC certified logging in Sweden is explored in a new article, Sweden’s Green Veneer Hides Unsustainable Logging Practices on Yale 360, by journalist and photographer, Erik Hoffner.

The article describes the growing consensus that the “Swedish model” of forestry is failing to protect biodiversity, and old growth forests continue to be clear-cut, including those with FSC certification. With 10 million hectares certified, or 45% of its total forest, Sweden has one of the largest areas of FSC certified logging.

But certification has failed to protect valuable wildlife habitat. As part of his report, Hoffner interviewed Daniel Rutschman of Protect the Forest and Malin Sahlin of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC). In the short video below, they explain how FSC certified companies such as SCA get round FSC’s requirements not to log key areas of old growth habitats: they simply sell those areas to someone else.

SCA accounts for over two million hectares of FSC certified area in Sweden, under a certificate (opens pdf, 500kb) issued by SGS – whose certificates are already being challenged in at least three other countries.

Hoffner’s article ends with a quote from Lina Bergström of FSC Sweden: “I wish we could have more backbone” she says. “But big companies make mistakes. We are not a monitoring system, we are an improving system. It’s a slow process, but we’re getting there.”

The truth is that FSC has been issuing certificates in Sweden for well over a decade. The country’s tiny remaining fragments of old growth/high conservation value forest have continued to be trashed, including by FSC certified companies. If the FSC does not actually ‘monitor’ all this, then what exactly does it do? FSC is not supposed to be an ‘improving’ system, it is supposed to be a performance-based certification system.

Quite where Lina Bergström thinks FSC is “getting” is very open to question. All the evidence seems to suggest that, far from being an ‘improving system’, any improvements have now stalled and are going backwards. If the FSC proves to be too slow and too easily circumvented even in a relatively well-regulated country like Sweden, it bodes very poorly for the system in other more problematic parts of the world.

Photographs taken by Erik Hoffner showing the search for old growth characteristics in Sweden’s forests are available here.



  1. I work at a printing company in Virginia. We have not become FSC certified even though we have lost hundreds of thousands in printing because of this. The printing market in the US is struggling because of unfair practices in China. To become FSC certified it costs about 30,000 a year between their fees and paying a person to keep up with it. Seems to me that FSC is a scam that everone has gotten into.

    Thank you for watching out and educating the public!

  2. I have been working with FSC almost 10 years as a specialist consultatnt. More I look at the publications and collumns posted here but also in practice I am starting to have a strange feeling that FSC is starting to be just one of the “green” NGOs. For years I have not seen a statement that companies or FMU’s are struglling to pay all the fees and that FSC market does not pay at all for all the expenditures for implementation of FSC systems. No one has ever valued how many processing factories refrined form FSC or withdrawn their certificate because they were not able to pay the fees. Where is the balance between social and economic principle if environmental one is being lifted on first 10 places in the rank and only after come some social issues and economic prosperity is perceived as something automatic where FSC does not seem to be wanting to look into….. My view is that FSC CW system will in short period of time ruin most of the FSC trade and will cause even larger growth of PEFC. Just watch the figures FSC started couple of years earlier and has only 1/3 of the PEFC market share. This is not a success….. How many rainforests did FSC save? Just look over the map of FSC forest cover …..

  3. I couldn’t agree more with your observations Tubby & Michal. I worked for an FSC accredited certification body off and on between 1995 and the end of 2009. I remember the initial focus in the early days, and quite righly, was tropical forest certification. Yet in 2011 the FSC logo, from which FSC gets its visibility, is predominanly seen on paper and tissue products that are sourced from temperate and sub-tropical timber plantations.

    This has had a profound effect on the type of manufacturing company that is now FSC certified. The big change came about five years ago when printers were basically forced by their customers to achieve FSC chain of custody certification or lose business. FSC claims it is a voluntary certification programme. There was nothing voluntary about small printers – in some cases family owned businesses with only a handful of workers – being forced to put FSC controls in place to satisfy their customers. By the time I stopped working for the certification body in the UK at the end of 2009, about 70% of all the chain of custody clients were printers.

    Many of these printers did not have management systems in place. Some larger printers did have quality systems personnel who were able to take on the additional task of developing and implementing FSC systems and controls. But for smaller companies this proved a huge burden and caused immense resentment towards the FSC.

    Has any of this improved forest management standards? Well, certainly not in tropical forests because almost all the fibre used to manufacture graphic and tissue papers is sourced from plantations. So how does this square with the FSC’s original aim of improving management standards in tropical forests? If truth be told, the FSC has sold its soul in exchange for high logo visibility on junk mail and toilet tissue.

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