FSC trademarks and censorship

Believe it or not, according to FSC Australia, if you use the letters ‘FSC’ or ‘Forest Stewardship Council’, you need to seek approval, in order to allow FSC to “check the accuracy of the text”. At least that’s what Timber + Design International was told when they contacted FSC Australia last year.

FSC’s website explains that FSC owns three registered trademarks:

  • the initials “FSC®”;
  • the name “Forest Stewardship Council®”;
  • the “checkmark-and-tree” logo

And FSC takes protecting its trademarks “very seriously”:

FSC trademarks may only be used by organizations or individuals that have obtained authorization, and use must be in compliance with FSC’s trademark standards and guidelines.

The FSC trademarks are the intellectual property of the FSC and we take their protection and enforcement very seriously.

Obviously, FSC doesn’t really mean to prevent journalists from writing about FSC. Or does it? The point of the trademarks is surely to prevent companies from misusing FSC to promote their products. Or is it? FSC lists six categories that may want to use FSC trademarks. Media is covered in two categories: Non-Certificate Holders; and Media.

FSC’s website on non-certificate holders explains that,

Non-certificate holders include commercial and non-commercial organizations, educational and research institutions, the media, and FSC accredited certification bodies and their partners. [emphasis added]


In order to use the FSC trademarks for general or product promotion, the individual or organization needs to sign an FSC trademark license agreement; representatives of the media, educational institutions or research organizations must sign an acknowledgement of receipt of the logo files.

Meanwhile, FSC’s website on media explains that,

Members of the media who want to use the FSC trademarks in publications, in order to inform the public about FSC certification and who do not make commercial claims related to FSC, do not need any form of certification.


The FSC National Office in your country can work directly with you to provide advice and logo files. If you wish to use the FSC trademarks you need to sign an acknowledgement of receipt of logo files.

Confusing isn’t it? Here’s Timber + Design International’s article on the subject:


According to Wikipedia, ‘censorship’ is the suppression of speech or other public communication, which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body.

And a recent experience suggests that is what the Australian branch of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is trying to impose.

When we invited FSC Australia to answer a series of questions in response to the contention that forest certification is a huge success – but it is in the wrong neck of the woods? chief executive Natalie Reynolds pulled out the big stick.

Apart from declining to participate because the “fundamental title of the article [never a title, just a point of reference] is negative”, she warned that “anything you write about FSC, if you use the trademarks which are the letters ‘FSC’, words ‘Forest Stewardship Council’ and the checkmark and tree logo … you must seek approval so we can check accuracy of the text in accordance with the process described here [reference to a website]”.

Do the people at FSC seriously believe they can manipulate free speech and stifle public comment in that way? Imagine if Qantas, McDonalds or the Catholic Church tried to pull the same stroke! Surely the intention of the policy is to curtail unauthorised use of the FSC brand in a marketing sense. If not, it is arrogant and unacceptable in the modern age.

Contrast that with the reaction to the same questions (and ‘title’) from the more media-savvy and altogether friendlier people at PEFC International – the world’s biggest forest certification organisation. Their communications boss Thorsten Arndt responded in full and placed no conditions on how we used the information. (PEFC endorses the Australian Forestry Standard, which certifies the sustainability of some 10 million ha of the country’s hardwood and planted forest. By contrast, FSC certifies less than 1000 ha in Australia.)

Censorship attempts notwithstanding, we take a closer look at the cost/benefits of forest certification and chain-of-custody in the September issue.

By Tony Neilson – editor



  1. Not sure what the problem with this is. They’re just protecting a trade mark / brand. It’s not to say you can’t use it, just that you need their permission. It may be frustrating, but it isn’t censorship.

    I’d suggest they feel this is necessary because it’s been abused before? And if that’s true, maybe it is because it is worth doing (ie it’s a meaningful standard).

    Perhaps this requirement harms them too, given your comments at the end about the amount of timber certified vs PEFC? I wonder if PEFC has similar problems with people misusing the logo or making incorrect claims etc?

  2. If I were FSC-Australia, I would adopt a Big Brother attitude to controlling the use of the name as well; that is probably the only way they can conceal the gulags of betrayal and deception they have created to perpetuate their miserable existence.

    For example, any FSC body that can defend the continued certification (for ‘economic sustainability’?) of a company (Gunns) that is actually bankrupt and in receivership, deserves special awards for use of Double-Speak.

  3. Hello to you all,

    I would like the opportunity to explain this.

    The requirements regarding using the trademark for educational use (which was the original purpose the publication contacted me, and not for journalistic reasons at all) merely so that we can check, in educational publications that facts about FSC such as number of hectares certified, where and what sorts of forests carry certification etc are correct. It doesnt help anyone if these things arent corect and serves to actually help the person writing about FSC. Even when I spent a significant amount of time explaining exactly how many hectares were certified and which places in Asia Pacific, this article did not represent the facts. In australia there are 896 000 hectares that have achieved Forest Management Certification. This information can be verified on our publicly available international database.

    This was the context under which I was originally contacted. There are no restrictions on journalists. Anyone only has to see media reports that are published across the world about FSC. We welcome stakeholder input and feedback, in whatever form, and most particularly want to improve our system all the time via feedback mechanisms.

    However we do have rules about trademark use that are designed to protect the integrity of the system, where we do issue permission. There is no cost for educational uses. There is no ‘big stick’ with journalists.

    In relation to Gunns, this is in the hands of the auditors for review upon re certification coming up. FSC Australia has, in the way that all good standards systems operate, separated policy from compliance decision making to try to ensure independence in decision making.. People can participate and express views on that in the very near future.

    Kind Regards,


  4. Natalie – you see, you just can’t help yourself, can you? How can anyone “recertify” a company that is bankrupt? It is this kind of utter nonsense that has brought the FSC into disrespect, worldwide, but especially in Australia.

    As for Gunns and ‘independence’, if you knew the first thing about the FSC you would know that the global membership of the organisation has repeatedly demanded that certificates should not be issued where there is no properly agreed and approved National FSC Standard. Of course there is no such standard in Australia because your entity has failed to come up with one. If as a national FSC organisation you had any integrity then you would stand up to the fraudsters at the Rainforest Alliance and tell them to p*ss off out of Australia and go and certify some bankrupt and non-compliant loggers elsewhere.

  5. There’s plenty of pages on Hancock Watch http://hancockwatch.nfshost.com/ informing the public at large about FSC certified operations in an Australian Context. We haven’t been censored … yet! Imagine the media exposure if we were!

    One of the most “popular” pages on the site is this one: http://hancockwatch.nfshost.com/docs/11oct.htm

    Note that it also refers to that other forest certification scheme operating in Australia, the AFS. Hancock have joint certification (AFS & FSC) meaning that both are having the same impact on the ground.

  6. Agree with W. Smith. How can ‘forest management’ be audited when the forests are being managed by lawyers and accountants? Maybe FSC is comfortable with that, most Tasmanians are not. The certification of essentially the Tasmanian government by FSC Australia will really let the skeletons out of the closet. How did the Tasmanian government and their faithful zombie Forestry Tasmania come to own the forests? In a word ‘genocide’. The tree with a tick will make this ‘genocide’ a bit more marketable will it not? Be ready for interesting times ahead. The FSC Australia members are being looked at very closely right now.

  7. For me its easier to think of FSC as a forest industry tax system. The additional compliance cost and regulation slow down the flow of product coming out of the worlds forests. This adds a price premium for the economic chamber after paying their dues. FSC say their 3 chambers are equal but what payoff does the social chamber get? None other than acting as volunteer tree police to help the salaried ‘tax’ officials cream the loggers. The ecological chamber is in partnership with the economic chamber as they are dependent on forest degradation for donations. Look how crowded the ENGO space is? The ecological result is almost the same using FSC as without, with crater sized bites taken out of the forest ecosystem. Its just been slightly restricted thats all. I try not to get buried in the detail but to observe whole systems.

  8. Chris I’m a follower of your research over the years. It’s been excellent. Please don’t let this site wither on the vine. The push to get GM tree plantations accepted by FSC as controlled wood is on and it needs to be watched. I am seeing big conflicts of interest in Australia with the funding of FSC-AU by our federal government while at the same time trying to get government forestry corporations certified. The collusion has been obvious. The deaths of koala bears in an Australian bluegum plantation while harvesting needed to be exposed internationally.

  9. FSC is just ridicules. We are a paper supplier and we sell FSC certified paper. I have been told by FSC UK that I can’t tell my clients that the paper we sell is FSC certified unless I will pay them a trademark licence fee. She actually said “You can’t say FSC to your clients”.

    Every single pack of paper we stock has FSC label with the licence number, but according to FSC UK the manufacturers licence is invalid if we (non payer to his majesty FSC) sell this paper.

    So imagine now, we stock the biggest brands of paper, client asks “Do you sell FSC certified paper?” I have to say “Sir, I can’t say it, but I can show you the packaging, so you can see for yourself”.

    I have spoken with lawyers about this and their advice was “You can say FSC Certified as many times as you like to your clients, as long as the product has FSC label on it. FSC will not sue as they have no leg to stand on”…”You can’t use their logo, but you can describe product as FSC Certified if it actually is”

    Conclusion is to teach clients that FSC is not what they think.

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