FSC logo.jpgAs a final look at greenwashing with logos, I'd like to touch on the FSC logo specifically. The FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo is probably the most well known "green" mark in the wood industry. As a result, it is therefore the one most often abused, sometimes deliberately and sometimes out of ignorance (or confusion, as the rules for FSC labeling are very complex and change regularly.)

There are two situations where I would consider the FSC logo commonly being used as greenwashing. The first would be advertising but not stocking FSC products, and the second would be using it to imply that the business (or all the products) are somehow endorsed by the FSC.

Just being FSC COC (Chain of Custody) certified doesn't mean the company is green. FSC COC is a confirmation of a process-it's a certification that the company understands and agrees to abide by FSC rules and regulations for labels and storage and invoicing, etc. It does not mean that all, or even any, of their actual products meet FSC standards for material content.  

How many times have you seen a company prominently displaying an FSC logo on their website, but when you called, were told that FSC material was available only as a special order, or not in the product or size or species or grade you wanted? For some companies, they feel that becoming COC is sufficient-that the certification alone makes them green. If the company does not stock any FSC material, even a small amount, I'd call the use of the logo a form of greenwashing.

The second situation I often see is placing a logo near products or on a top page (with or without text) in such a way that the implication is that all stock is certified or that the company is endorsed by FSC. This can also happen at trade shows, where a big FSC mark is stuck over a rack of samples, but few or none of those products are actually available as FSC. I would call this deceptive advertising, trying to umbrella the logo over everything.

There is a third situation that is not exactly greenwashing, but is definitely an abuse of the system. How many companies have displayed a product with an FSC logo when they themselves were not actually certified as COC? FSC regulations usually allow the last person in the chain to be non-certified, but to sell certified material. So when a retailer sells FSC material to the final consumer, they themselves do not have to be FSC-certified to pass on the certification claim-as long as they don't change the packaging or hide or change the certification number of the supplier. But you will often see trading companies, importers and distributors offering FSC material with the implication that they can pass the FSC certification downstream. They can't. All companies in the chain, up the to the final one, must be certified to pass it on. So unless you are a final end consumer, if you're buying FSC material, make sure the seller is actually certified as well.

So these are my concerns about greenwashing with the FSC logo-be on the lookout. Make sure a company that is certified actually stocks some material, that they don't imply it as an endorsement of all their products or company practices, and that if they are offering certified material to you, they themselves are properly certified.

Finally, if you see a trademark or logo abuse or any questionable use, you can report it to the FSC through their website

Elizabeth Baldwin

Elizabeth Baldwin has over 20 years of international wood sourcing experience. Very widely traveled, her résumé's "Special Skills" section includes "the ability to eat anything from raw horse to deep-fried scorpion." She serves as Metropolitan Hardwood Flooring's (metrofloors.com) ECO (Environmental Compliance Officer) and deals daily with the "green alphabet soup" of today's industry: FSC, CARB, LEED, and much more. She blogs for Hardwood Floors on all things green (and, as she says, " 'grey' and 'blue' and almost every color except 'black and white.' Nothing in this world is black and white, particularly not 'green issues.'")