Opinion & Analysis

Governance of FSC: A perspective from the Economic Chamber
Peter Gardiner (Mondi Economic Chamber Member)

FSC paved the way for credible forest certification and has become the leading global standard, but FSC has reached a watershed. As a recognized global brand it must now change course to certify the global forests and maintain and grow the brand through credible, cost-effective and value-adding certification.



The impending General Assembly (GA), 7–12 September, provides an important opportunity to review governance, discuss strategy and a framework for meaningful change to FSC that can direct the FSC strategic planning process that concludes in March 2015. The effectiveness of change will to a large extent be determined by preparation and the alignment of chamber interests in GA discussions. There are strong indications that the Director General and FSC Board are fully aware of FSC shortcomings, are willing to change and are seeking solutions. A good number of the 90 GA motions are related to governance issues.

The need to change

The recent London FSC Solutions meeting confirmed that there is a high level of consensus among all chambers on the shortcomings of FSC and for the need to change. In brief the meeting concluded that FSC: lacks strategy and structure; suffers from system complexity and inefficiency; has no business plan; is seriously behind in technology; lacks fact-based evidence for decision making; does not meet small forest owners and community needs; suffers from eroding credibility and inconsistent Certification Body (CB) performance.

Put simply, FSC as the leading global brand is in crisis, it lacks clear strategy and structure to reach its mission and goals, and this translates into complex and inefficient governance with no clear roles and responsibilities and seemingly never-ending changes to the system instead of dealing with specific problems. These changes tend to increase costs and resources for companies and widen the engagement gap for small owners and communities – a destructive spiral leading to the eventual exclusion of small forest owners and communities.

FSC is lacking in innovation, expertise and technology to deliver on certification and assurance, and its credibility is being questioned. Coupled with this is a growing tendency to micro-manage forestry enterprises via certification and this has cost and resource implications for FSC and certificate holders. FSC is mainly focused inward on the complexity and not outward on targets for certification of global forests; it is in danger of becoming unmanageable with self-generating complexity. Attempting to further develop and manage a credible global brand with the current governance structure, a General Assembly that meets every 3 years and a Board with limited executive authority, has reached its limits.

FSC´s complexity

Proportionality is a real problem. Rigidly enforcing a one-size-fits-all policy is a big contributor to FSC complexity and resource demand. FSC National Standards, risk assessment and audits (CBs) must acknowledge sensible differences in major forest types (boreal, tropical, etc.) and size of the enterprise, particularly small forest owners and communities. In terms of impact, deliberate transgressions of FSC principles should be treated very differently to errors/problems in forest or chain of custody (CoC) practice that can be corrected over time (e.g. problems in a nursery in Poland should not bring into question the FSC certification of the entire state forests).

FSC consists of two distinct components: a three-chamber stakeholder platform and a certification system. FSC certification is a business and to remain competitive requires strategy, structure and a business plan to deliver efficient cost-effective certification. The stakeholder platform promoting dialogue, innovation and advocacy is a core strength of FSC in maintaining the balance between democracy and executive power. The platform has the credibility and potential to target external funding (Foundations, etc.) for projects and the certification of key global forests. In addition to the focus on FSC strategy and structure, the functions and roles of all three chambers should be examined and redirected in a more creative process of problem solving, advocacy, capacity building, fundraising for specific projects and shared development of tools and processes to further credible and affordable certification.

The question is how do we reach the obvious solutions and how do we manage the process and expectations of the next two years, given the complexity and complications of already implemented initiatives, while reshaping the future of FSC? Importantly, the staff in FSC must be kept motivated and need to contribute to the change.

In summary: FSC urgently needs a strategy and structure, supported by the three chambers, to reach its mission and goals as “the best value global certification system.”

Appropriate strategy and structure will eliminate much of the complexity and confusion, and facilitate consistency of certification and Certification Bodies.

FSC needs an Executive body that is accountable to the FSC Board, empowered to make executive decisions between GAs, manages three-chamber interests and drives efficient cost-effective certification for the full range of certificate holders. In addition it manages a well-structured FSC problem-solving mechanism.

FSC must offer robust certification that can stand up to the increasing transparency provided by latest mapping, geographic information system (GIS) and Earth observatory (EO) technologies and use these technologies to improve governance related to risk assessment and assurance.

The three-chamber platform (democracy) with global networks is a core strength of FSC and needs to be fully developed with a clear modus operandi with regard to the certification system.

Overall, the FSC Board remains accountable via the General Assembly, but governance with the right balance of democracy and executive power will enable FSC to deliver on its vision, mission and targets as the leading global forest-certification brand.

It is hoped that these few words on governance will help stimulate discussion that brings about meaningful change to FSC.