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Green / Sustainable

As of January 2011, more than 330 million acres of forest in 81 countries have received Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. About 40 percent of these certifications are located in Europe, 40 percent in North America, 9 percent in Latin and South America, and almost 6 percent in Asia and Oceania, and 5 percent in Africa. More than 419,300 chain-of-custody certificates, which allow manufacturers and distributors to label and sell FSC-certified products, have been granted in 105 countries.

Why is it important to protect forests?

Forests are more than a symbolic ideal of wilderness, more than quiet places to enjoy nature. Forest ecosystems -- trees, soil, undergrowth, all living things in a forest -- are critical to maintaining life on earth. Forests help us breathe by creating oxygen and filtering pollutants from the air, and help stabilize the global climate by absorbing carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. They soak up rainfall like giant sponges, preventing floods and purifying water that we drink. They provide habitat for 90 percent of the plant and animal species that live on land, as well as homelands for many of the earth's last remaining indigenous cultures. Forests are commercially important, too; they yield valuable resources like wood, rubber and medicinal plants, including plants used to create cancer drugs. Harvesting these resources provides employment for local communities.

Healthy forests are a critical part of the web of life. Yet more than half of the earth's original forest cover has been destroyed due to human activity such as agriculture, development and logging. Much of the loss has occurred within the past three decades. Protecting the earth's remaining forest cover is now an urgent task.

What is forest certification and how will it protect our forests?

Forest certification was launched over a decade ago to help protect forests from destructive logging practices. Like the "organically grown" sticker on produce, forest certification was intended as a seal of approval -- a means of notifying consumers that a wood or paper product comes from forests managed in accordance with strict environmental and social standards. For example, a person shopping for flooring or furniture would seek a certified forest product to be sure that the wood was harvested in a sustainable manner from a healthy forest, and not clearcut from a tropical rainforest or the ancestral homelands of forest-dependent indigenous people.

Increasing consumer demand for certification creates a powerful incentive for retailers and manufacturers to seek out good wood suppliers. This in turn prompts forest managers to adopt ecologically sound certified practices that maintain natural forest characteristics, and to move away from destructive techniques like large-scale clearcutting, logging in endangered and old-growth forests and destruction of natural forests for replacement by barren tree plantations.

How do forest products become FSC-certified?

During FSC forest-management assessments, teams of foresters, ecologists and social scientists visit forestry operations and inspect their practices for compliance with FSC's standards. For example, they assure that:

~ Harvesting rates and clearing sizes do not exceed a forest's natural capacity to regenerate

~ Natural forest conditions needed for wildlife and healthy ecosystem function are maintained

~ Rare, threatened and endangered species and forest types are maintained and protected

~ No natural forests are cleared and replaced by barren tree plantations; new plantations can be established on agricultural and pasture lands.

~ Adequate conservation zones exist

~ Chemical use is minimized or eliminated

~ Streams and rivers are protected from soil erosion that degrades water quality and fish habitat

~ Workers, communities and indigenous people benefit from the forestry operation, and their rights and interests are protected

~Forestry operations that meet the standards are granted an FSC forest management certification and audited annually. Forestry operations are required to make improvements as a condition of getting certified and staying certified over time

~ Certifiers also grant "chain-of-custody" certifications to companies that manufacture and sell products made out of certified wood. A chain-of-custody assessment tracks wood from the forest through milling and manufacturing to the point of sale. This annual assessment ensures that products sold as certified actually originate in certified forests.

How do you help? Ask for FSC certified products and know that you are doing your part to help protect our natural resources.