If a tree falls in a forest, what effect does it have? That sort of question would keep a philosopher up all night - luckily for the rest of us, an answer is more easily found.
Unfortunately, it isn't always a pleasant one. Deforestation is a major global issue, hastening climate change and destroying the habitats of people and wildlife. In 2013, a study in the journal Science used satellite data to show the world lost 1.5 million square kilometres of forest between 2000 and 2012.
Striking a balance between timber production and preservation is essential. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) promotes sustainable, holistic forest management through its international certification scheme. Certified products are sourced from responsibly managed forests - and the material is segregated from non-certified material en route from the forest to its destination (known as a chain of custody).
FSC was established in 1994, four years after a group of people first met in California to discuss deforestation, environmental degradation and social exclusion. Today, the independent, non-governmental organisation is based in Germany and has members in 112 countries. Members range from forest owners, retailers and manufacturers to environmental and human rights organizations, and indigenous groups.
FSC-certified products have been available here since the late 1990s, and New Zealand's first certified forest got the green tick in 2000. There are now 1.1 million hectares of certified New Zealand forest.
Almost 100 per cent of our forestry industry is plantation based, versus long-established forests, says FSC Australia and New Zealand CEO Adam Beaumont. "And of that, 60 per cent is FSC certified, which is a really high ratio for any country; New Zealand is one of the foremost FSC-certified countries in the world in terms of supply."
Timber, wooden furniture, paper, card, toilet paper and tissues can all gain certification. Rubber products such as gloves and condoms can also be certified - as, curiously, can maple syrup, deer meat, nuts and woodwind instruments. Consumers can find food products bearing the FSC label on Tetra Pak packaging on grocery shelves.
You'll see three FSC standards on labels here. FSC 100% means material is only sourced from FSC-certified forests; FSC Recycled is made from at least 85 per cent reclaimed materials. FSC Mix combines FSC-certified and reclaimed wood (at least 70 per cent), and controlled wood - which isn't certified but has minimum ethical and legal requirements.
The New Zealand FSC website (nz.fsc.org) lists local retailers, printers and certified timbers; customers can also check a product is certified by entering its license code into
an international database (info.fsc.org).
After 21 years in existence, FSC calculates that one in six logs worldwide is FSC-certified, says Beaumont. There are 185 million certified hectares of forest and 20,000 certified products.
But success isn't just measured in numbers, as its imperatives of being "environmentally appropriate" and "socially beneficial" require.
Ten per cent of each certified forest must remain protected, especially high-conservation-value forest such as old trees or native vegetation. Buffers must be established around waterways. If a plantation is established on clear land, forest managers must buy blocks of older forest to protect it.
As some foresters in the Congo Basin gain FSC certification, they've provided reliable electricity, medical facilities and educational opportunities for locals. In Wonosalam, Indonesia, funding from a FSH smallholder has enabled a co-op to build 12 wells and buy safety helmets and shoes.
In New Zealand, Beaumont explains, they focus on worker safety and wellbeing, and engaging with Maori communities. "Lots of FSC requirements go above and beyond
what's required in legislation."
It can also raise other opportunities. Asaleo Care sells various brands of toilet and towel tissue; in 2009 its Kawerau production site converted its electricity-driven turbines to geothermal steam in a partnership with Ngati Tuwharetoa, contributing to a 45 per cent reduction in annual total CO2 emissions.
"That's all come through starting with FSC, engaging with their community and thinking more holistically," says Beaumont.
FSC's international standards have been adapted for New Zealand, and FSC polices them "rigorously", explains Beaumont.
"We want consumers to see the logo and trust there's a strong regime around it," he says. "The entire system is based on trust, so we're very protective of its use and who
we give it to."
Are there 'good' and 'bad' woods?
For FSC, the species of timber is less of an issue than whether it's been certified. Beaumont mentions merbau as an example. "Traditionally it's a very difficult timber to manage well, from social and environmental impacts, but there's work going into trying to certify a merbau estate in Indonesia. If they get certification, it's OK to use merbau."
Otherwise, he advises:
Buying solid timber? Look for FSC timber, then reclaimed or recycled timber.
Buying paper? Choose FSC paper, then recycled paper - but prioritise post-consumer recycled product. "Pre-consumer product hasn't lived another life: it might be off-cuts from a factory and the fibre is virgin fibre," says Beaumont.