Published: July, 2016

FSC & PEFC: What is the difference?

RIBA noted in 2012 that the level of environmental requirements in project briefs had steadily increased since the early 1990s. In its report, RIBA states that sustainable development ties together the concern for the carrying capacity of natural systems with social challenges facing humanity.

One of the main talking points in the sustainability conversation is the importance of using timber from sustainable sources. According to the Forestry Commission, deforestation is the world’s second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. To help contribute to reducing environmental impact, architects, landscape architects, developers and contractors are encouraged to source materials from sustainably managed forests where trees are replanted as they are felled. There are over 50 certification programmes worldwide that address the different types of forests. The two most well-known certifications are PEFC and FSC. So what are the differences between each and what are the implications of operating multiple certifications?

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)

The FSC is a global certification system that enables specifiers to identify and purchase wood from well-managed forests. It defines ten principles of responsible forest management for a manager or owner to follow. As a benchmark, any FSC standard has to be ‘interpreted’ at the national level in order for it to be implemented within local forests.

Similarly, PEFC describes itself as an international organisation dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management (SFM) through independent third party certification. However, PEFC is not a standards agency but a mutual recognition scheme. It not only focuses on the ethical aspects of SFM but also the processing of timber, resulting in a larger emphasis on the supply chain than FSC.

While both are committed to the same cause, the primary difference between the certifications is their origins. Initially, the FSC scheme was developed for tropical environments and not suited for forests in Europe and North America. This led to the introduction of PEFC in the late 1990s, to facilitate SFM certification in Europe. PEFC now accounts for over 264 million hectares of certified forests and its certifications system is recognised in over 30 countries. Meanwhile, FSC has certified forests in over 80 countries with 7% of the world’s forest area (180 million hectares) carrying the FSC certification. GfK data collected in 2014 showed that 50% of people in the UK recognise the FSC logo.

Operating two timber certifications

In response to the increase of environmental requirements set out within tenders, some developers and contractors have introduced timber specification policies to ensure that all parties involved in a project are working with wood that comes from a sustainable source. But could legally binding a company to one timber certification cause potential issues? While FSC and PEFC are almost the same, some clients will contractually specify that any timber supplied to a project must carry the FSC certification. This could result in lost business for sub-contractors offering PEFC certified timber products because one party involved in the project has a contract forbidding them to use it.

In some cases, a lack of understanding of the differences between FSC and PEFC certification can lead an architect to seek products that meet the more common FSC certification, but which may not have the most suitable characteristics to achieve their design vision. Take our Terrafina decking for example, which contains PEFC certified timber, which, although is from a sustainably managed forest may not be technically compliant with a contract which stipulates FSC certified materials and products. 

Recently, I’ve seen companies losing out on potential contracts with suppliers and contractors due to legal obligations to one timber certification. Although the general consensus is that both PEFC and FSC are both reputable and very similar certifications – indeed, the UK Government states that both meet its requirements for responsibly sourced timber - some are choosing to specify only FSC certified timber.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this issue. Are you familiar with the PEFC system? Do you source timber with a specific certification or do you have a preference for a particular scheme? For those advocates of the PEFC certification, it would be great to hear more about why you think the system is being overlooked in some cases.



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