Where did FSC and PEFC start from?

In a 2012 report, RIBA noted that the level of environmental requirements in project briefs had steadily increased since the early 1990s. The report stated that sustainable development balances concerns about the resilience and capacity of ecosystems 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.

In a drive to reduce this environmental impact architects, landscape architects, developers and contractors are encouraged to source materials from certified, sustainably managed forests where trees are replanted as they are felled.

More than fifty certification programmes exist worldwide but of these, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) are the two better known. Here we will explain the differences between them and the implications of maintaining multiple certification.


FSC and PEFC – What are the differences?

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

PEFC similarly 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.

Why use both FSC and PEFC?

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 if one party involved in the project has a contract binding them to only using FSC certified materials.

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. This contains PEFC certified timber which, although it is sourced from sustainably managed forests, may not technically comply with a contract stipulating FSC certified materials and products. 

We have recently seen companies lose 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.

We’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.


Speak with our Technical Team to discuss your project

Get in touch