Ever wonder how you can do good for the Earth while you shop? More and more of us are asking where our products come from, and rightfully so. Right now, deforestation accounts for the loss of nearly 200,000 acres of trees a day (that’s the size of 14 Manhattans put together). It’s the second leading cause of carbon pollution, producing 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Further, deforestation is likely to cause up to 70% of the planet’s terrestrial animals and plants become threatened or extinct. So in other words, forests matter — a lot.
This is where the Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, has stepped in. Since 1993, FSC has fought hard to protect forests from decimation and now operates in over 80 countries to preserve forests regionally.
FSC has harnessed the power of the marketplace and consumer advocacy (that’s you!) to create a set of standards for comprehensive responsible forest management. The goal isn’t to stop using all products harvested from forests, which would be a difficult thing to do considering the average American uses six trees worth of paper alone every year. Instead, FSC focuses on harvesting materials in a way that will allow the forest to recover and continue to thrive. The organization is supported by groups such as WWF, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council and National Wildlife Federation.
The organization’s system has gained traction over the years, with many consumer goods companies voluntarily adhering to FSC guidelines. With an FSC certification, manufacturers and customers gain total transparency as to where their wood came from, down to the exact location. FSC also ensures regional water quality during harvesting and prohibits the use of hazardous chemicals. They also work hard to protect indigenous rights and engage in the communities surrounding these forests. Today, more than 380 million acres of forest are certified and protected under FSC, with 35.5 million of those acres being in the U.S.
Today, 46% of the wood furniture at West Elm is sustainably sourced with 20% FSC-certified. And that number is continuing to grow, thanks to you! You can read more about our commitments and values here.
We chatted with West Elm’s Social Consciousness and Innovation Manager, Margaret Derby, about why FSC is important to our business and what the future holds. Read on below!
Live every day like it’s Earth Day: shop FSC-certified furniture!
Can you tell us about FSC and the work that they do?
FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is a nonprofit organization that sets standards to ensure forests are responsibly managed. Their standards are the most rigorous in the industry – they restrict the use of harmful chemicals, use practices that greatly reduce soil erosion and deforestation, take active efforts to protect biodiversity in forests, and ensure safe working conditions. They certify forests in over 80 countries, including here in the U.S., and it’s truly the gold standard of wood certifications. When our customers shop products that are FSC-certified, it gives them transparency into the harvesting process and allows them to do their part in protecting our environment while still purchasing the quality furniture they love.
Why, from your perspective, is FSC-certified so important in today’s retail climate?
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report in October of last year that essentially says we have 12 years to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius or the effects will be significantly worse. The furnishings industry plays a huge role here – we contribute to 12% of manmade greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, if retailers keep depleting natural resources at the rate we are now, we’ll put ourselves out of business. Natural resources are the main component of our core products, and we need to ensure we’re protecting them for both the sake of our planet and future generations and for our business. Partnering with FSC and ensuring we’re sourcing from responsibly managed forests, maintaining biodiversity and reducing deforestation helps us do this. We’ve also made a concentrated effort to use recycled and reclaimed wood in our products to reduce the number of raw materials we’re using.
How does West Elm stand out in terms of commitment to initiatives like FSC?
West Elm made a public commitment in 2016 to having 50% of the wood in our assortment be responsibly sourced by 2020, and we’re well on our way to meeting that goal. Currently, 46% of our wood is responsibly sourced, and over 20% is FSC-certified. Our teams have made a concentrated effort over the past three years to ensure that we meet our goal, and it’s being recognized within the industry. Last year, our parent company Williams-Sonoma, Inc. was recognized by the Sustainable Furnishings Council as the 2nd highest-ranking company sourcing responsible wood.
One of West Elm’s pillars of corporate responsibility is “sustainably sourced” materials. How does purchasing FSC-certified wood go beyond just protecting from the environment from deforestation?
This is one of the many reasons FSC is the gold standard for wood certifications – it goes beyond just environmental sustainability. One of the biggest effects of deforestation is on local communities – it’s pushing people out of their homelands. FSC has forest managers who oversee their certified forests, and all of these managers are required to work directly with the local communities to ensure their voices are heard. In addition to protecting the planet, it’s also protecting the rights of indigenous people who live in these areas.
How did West Elm start working with FSC?
Our history with FSC is a long one. We started in 2006 by converting all our catalog paper to FSC-certified paper. From there, we really started thinking strategically about what it would look like to source FSC-certified wood for our furniture. Our Mid-Century Collection launched in 2010, and was the first of our big, core collections to launch as FSC-certified. It’s been one of our best-selling collections to date. Now, we have over 100 collections that are sustainably sourced, and half of those are FSC-certified.
What’s your favorite FSC-certified item at West Elm?
What do you hope to see West Elm doing in the next few years around FSC?
Obviously, I’d love to see us expand FSC far beyond our 50% goal. But I think that as West Elm really grows its offerings, we have a unique opportunity to introduce FSC-certified and other products that reflect our values, beyond just the traditional point-of-sale interaction. We’re already including FSC-certified products through our West Elm Work and West Elm Contract B2B services, and as we continue to expand into the Hotels space and others, we have the ability to really introduce a new set of customers to the idea that you can have beautiful design, great quality, and sustainable materials all in one product.
Learn more about FSC International on their website!