Black Locust, FSC, and Sustainability…
Black Locust is arguably the most sustainable outdoor wood product you can buy, and no one is debating that. But a common question we get asked about Black Locust is, “Are you FSC Certified?” Now to really answer that question, you have to understand what FSC certification actually means, and how it has nothing to do with sustainability.
So What is FSC Certification?
FSC stands for “Forest Stewardship Council” and its history dates back to the 1980’s. In Europe at that time, tropical hardwoods, especially Teak and Mahogany, were very popular. After years of deforestation drove these species to the brink of extinction, there was a movement across Europe to ban tropical hardwoods altogether. Tropical hardwood suppliers, in an effort to combat this and save their businesses, conceived the concept of FSC, and used it to promote their products as “sustainable.”
FSC certification involves what is called a Chain of Custody audit whereby a supplier documents that a percentage of the wood used in the product was legally sourced through a chain of paperwork from the forest owner to the logger to the saw mill to the finishing mill to the store or consumer. It doesn’t matter if the wood species in question is sustainable or not, it’s just about claiming that you have the paperwork.
Ironically, most wood industry experts know that the system of tracking paperwork through the supply chain is also full of fraud and mistakes. Even a former executive at the FSC has publicly stated that FSC’s actual certification process is a “Myth.” For more information about the flaws of the FSC, check out the FSC Watch website.
Why doesn’t FSC equal sustainability?
FSC does not require the scientific species to be identified and does not take into account the re-growth and re-forestation of species. If sustainable is defined as “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level”, and with wood coming from a tree, one would think that the regenerative nature of a tree should be a factor in defining whether a wood product is “sustainable”. Not with FSC. As long as you can claim to have paperwork proving that your lumber was legally logged (which in many countries is simply clear cutting), then that is considered grounds for FSC certification.
Also, take as an example the popular “Ipe” wood. Ipe is not a tree, but a marketing name for a group (genus) of trees called Handroanthus. Many suppliers market “FSC Ipe” as a sustainable product. Yet, suppliers can’t tell you what tree the Ipe wood comes from, because 10 different scientific species of trees are bundled together and marketed as Ipe. On top of this, the re-growth of the various Handroanthus trees is a major issue as these species are no longer growing into lumber producing trees, maxing out as nothing more than an ornamental street tree.
So we have wood product suppliers who can’t tell you which actual trees the product comes from, but whatever the trees are, we do know that they won’t re-grow into a lumber-producing tree for centuries. But with the FSC stamp, they are marketed as “sustainable” products…. As a company committed to sustainability, this doesn’t make sense to us.
A better approach
We think there is a better way to define sustainability with wood products, unlike the misleading association of FSC. (Not to mention the rampant fraud associated with the process). This is why we at Robi Decking® are part of a growing and knowledgeable community who do not want to be associated with FSC.
A better definition of a sustainability for wood products is to look at the actual tree, as defined by the scientific species, and examine the re-growth performance of that tree.
- How quickly does it re-grow?
- At what density (trees per acre) does it grow and re-grow?
- Does it cause the destruction of other trees or entire forests to harvest it?
- Does it destroy natural habitats, including those utilized by Indigenous peoples?
- Does it need to be transported from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere and vice-versa?
By these measures, Black Locust (and our other domestic hardwoods), is a shining star of sustainability. To learn more about how Black Locust stacks up to other wood products, check out our Decking Comparison Chart.