Should I Buy FSC Certified Lumber?

“Is this wood from a sustainable forest?”

“Is this product eco-friendly?”

If you’re an architect or builder, you probably get asked these questions a lot. We all want to do our part to take care of the environment, and purchasing recycled or sustainable products like lumber is a big part of “green” living. With so many different certifications and regulations for green building, how important is purchasing FSC Certified lumber?

FSC Woods


Forest Green

When it comes to lumber, the leader in certifying sustainable best practices is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). According to, they’ve certified over 180 million hectares of forest over the past 20 years with 28,000 certificate holders worldwide. There are many ways the FSC promotes the importance of forest stewardship, but there are two certifications you need to know about.

1) Forest Managers Certification

For those who own or manage a forest wanting to be FSC Certified, the FSC will bring an accredited certification body to your forest for an audit. If you pass the audit, you’re certified for the next 5 years.

2) Chain of Custody Certification

The Chain of Custody certification is for mills, manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, and dealers along the supply chain. In order for a final product to be officially FSC Certified, the entire production chain must be FSC Certified. If a non-FSC Certified company touches the product anywhere in the process, the certification is lost. To verify the Chain of Custody, the FSC tracks each product through the supply chain to make sure it was only handled by FSC certificate holders.

Should I Buy or Specify FSC Certified?

Purchasing or specifying FSC Certified can guarantee an eco-friendly product, but also costs more and can be difficult to find. It’s a good idea to find out if it’s worthwhile to purchase certified for a project before specifying it in your plans or promising certified to a client. Buying FSC Certified depends on three primary factors.

1) Consider Your Client

Typically, the owners most concerned with FSC Certified lumber are going to be high-end residential or commercial clients. As a builder or architect, you may also want FSC Certified lumber to earn LEED certification. But, if you’re not dealing with clients asking about FSC Certified lumber, or you have other ways to earn LEED points, you can save time and money finding an alternative product.

2) Consider Your Product

Some species of lumber, like southern yellow pine, may have millions of acres of FSC Certified forests, making it easy to get certified product. On the other hand, if you’re looking for FSC Certified exotic hardwoods like ipe, there are very few certified forests. For instance, forests in Brazil (the primary source for ipe) rarely, if ever, get FSC Certified. If you’re purchasing exotic hardwoods or rare products, you may not want to commit to FSC Certified until you know what’s available.

3) Consider Your Supply Chain

Because of the Chain of Custody certification requirements, every link in the supply chain must be FSC Certified to have a certified final product. If a supplier is certified, but the dealer is not, then the final product will not be certified. If you aren’t working with other FSC Certified companies on a regular basis, you’ll have a harder time purchasing FSC Certified products.

FSC Alternatives

If it doesn’t make sense to buy FSC Certified, you can still make sure you’re being environmentally responsible with the products you purchase.

1) Research Forests

Even if you don’t have a certified supply chain, you can still purchase from FSC Certified forests. Another option is going online and researching the facilities you’re working with to ensure they have their own sustainability standards. Other industry groups to look at are the National Hardwood Lumber Association, the International Wood Products Association, and businesses that comply with the Lacey Act.

2) Research Your Supply Chain

It’s important to do your due diligence when striving to deliver an eco-friendly and sustainable product. Visit your manufacturers, suppliers, or dealers. Research them online and read between the lines on their website. Sometimes a company might say they “work with FSC Certified products,” but that doesn’t mean they are FSC Certified themselves. Or, a dealer may be FSC Certified, but the product you need is not.

3) Go To The Source

Although this isn’t always possible, the best way to know you’re getting a truly “green” product is to purchase directly from the forest and control the whole process from start to finish. For example, TimberTown partnered with Overseas Hardwoods Company, who sends a hardwood buyer to Brazil annually to inspect the mills and forests before making any hardwood purchases.

Whether you choose to buy FSC Certified or not, you can still develop a process for delivering an eco-friendly and sustainable product.


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