Sustainability | April 20, 2022


What is it and why is it important?

by Marshall Newman

Fine guitars begin with forests. And forests worldwide have faced a variety of threats in the last 50 years: from deforestation and exploitation to illegal logging and climate change. Nearly half of the world’s original forests have disappeared, impacting more than one billion people who depend on them for their homes and livelihoods.

Yet there are reasons for optimism when it comes to forests. The rate of deforestation has slowed by nearly 40 percent since 1990. The importance of forests to the health of the planet and its inhabitants is now increasingly recognized, and forest sustainability is gaining support from wood supply chains and from consumers. Among the forces contributing to this evolution toward sustainable forests, one stands out significantly: the Forest Stewardship Council.®

What is FSC?

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®), founded in 1993, is an international, nongovernmental organization that was established to create global standards for responsible forest management, with the goal of protecting forests for future generations.

Companies, products, and entire forests can become FSC certified. For wood suppliers and producers of wood products like Martin Guitar (FSC Chain of Custody Certification License Code FSC-C008304), FSC certification shows their commitment to responsible forest management, protection of endangered species, and cultural and economic fairness for indigenous peoples. For consumers, the FSC trademark on products ensures that materials used for the product have been responsibly sourced.

Today, more than 500 million acres of forest are FSC certified, representing 12 percent of the world’s forests. Since 2003, the forest acreage protected by FSC certification has grown by 600 percent. More than 3,700 companies in the United States are now FSC certified, including Kimberly-Clark, Herman Miller, Crate & Barrel, and Patagonia. Most importantly, FSC-certified products are increasingly being embraced by consumers, who show their support for sustainable forests through their purchases.

When did Martin become certified? 

C. F. Martin & Co. first received Forest Stewardship Council certification in 1997, and now has multiple-site FSC certification to encompass both its Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico, production facilities. It has steadily increased purchases of FSC-certified tonewoods over the years and, today. Approximately 70% of Martin Guitar's wood purchases are currently obtained from FSC certified and controlled wood sources.

Martin uses FSC-certified Richlite,® a phenolic resin/cellulose composite, on several models. The high-pressure laminate (HPL) used on Martin’s X Series guitars is also FSC certified. Martin has offered several 100-percent FSC-certified models in recent years, including the D-Mahogany, the 00L Earth, and the Concert Uke FSC. “FSC certification is extremely important to C. F. Martin & Co., as sustainability is a core value of the company,” explained Cindy McAllister, Martin’s Director of Intellectual Property and Community/Government Relations. “Martin is committed to purchasing independently certified timber products, and recognizes the benefits to nature, to people, and to the climate that FSC represents. FSC’s forest management standards ensure strong protection for old-growth forests, as well as safe and fair working conditions and respect for workers’ rights.”

What did Martin do before FSC?

C. F. Martin & Co.’s focus on the environment and sustainable forests began well before the Forest Stewardship Council was founded. Former Martin President and CEO C. F. Martin III spoke of the importance of sustainable wood supplies in the 1960s. Scarcity of Brazilian rosewood caused the company to transition to East Indian rosewood in 1969, and concern regarding the slaughter of elephants caused it to phase out ivory nuts and saddles in the 1970s, in each case taking action more than a decade before the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) banned their commercial trade. In 1990, C. F. Martin & Co. became one of the first guitar manufacturers to develop an ecological policy, one that advocated use of sustainable and alternative woods, opposed burning of tropical forests to create farmland, and favored legislation to control overharvesting of old-growth timber.

Why was the FSC founded?

After the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was adopted by 80 countries in 1973 to assure world commerce would not threaten the survival of any species, environmental organizations hoped a similar international agreement could be forged to address deforestation. When the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro failed to produce such an agreement, those organizations turned their attention to creating a market-based approach to forest sustainability. With their support, the Forest Stewardship Council was founded in 1993.

The Forest Stewardship Council established standards that include:

  • Prohibiting conversion of natural forests to plantations or non-forest uses
  • Requiring forest growth to meet or exceed harvest levels
  • Protecting threatened species beyond that now required by law
  • Protecting indigenous peoples’ resources, cultural sites, and legal and traditional rights
  • Engaging local communities and other stakeholders in the management process

FSC also established national standards for many countries, standards that generally conform to its global standards but are adapted to local conditions. Landowners, concessionaires, vendors, and companies that bring wood products to the marketplace gain FSC certification by demonstrating they meet FSC standards. Only FSC-certified companies may use the FSC trademark.

Why is this so important?

The ability to trace wood from FSC®-certified forests through the supply chain is important to ensuring FSC-certified products are legitimate. The FSC Chain of Custody (CoC) system enables FSC-certified wood to be tracked through transportation, processing, and manufacturing. Every vendor, processor, and producer in the chain must be FSC certified, and each is audited annually to ensure controls are in place to identify FSC-certified shipments and to prevent them from being mixed with those not certified.

But Who's Keeping an Eye on the FSC?

The Forest Stewardship Council sets the rules for the FSC forest certification, supply chain certification, and Chain of Custody tracking system. However, to maintain independence between those rules and the certification process, it depends on several third-party organizations (called “certifiers”) to handle evaluations, certifications, and annual audits. “A good comparison would be the National Football League,” commented Michael Dickinson, C. F. Martin’s Sourcing Specialist. “The league establishes the rules, but the referees on the field make sure the rules are being scrupulously followed.” When C. F. Martin & Co. gained FSC certification in 1997, the Rainforest Alliance became the company’s third-party certifier for Chain of Custody and annual audits. Internationally recognized for its efforts on behalf of the environment, the Rainforest Alliance provided this service to Martin until 2018, when it pivoted toward agricultural certification and transferred its FSC oversight responsibilities to NEPCon (Nature Economy and People Connected). NEPCon became Preferred by Nature™ in 2020, but continues to be Martin’s certifier. “FSC Chain of Custody audits can be a challenge,” observed Rachel Richmond, Preferred by Nature’s Supply Chains Manager. “Business practices vary from country to country. Our job is to verify each vendor and end user strictly adheres to FSC policies, including documentation that traces every FSC-certified shipment back to its FSC-certified source.” She noted there were three different FSC labels, and “all three must meet the same Chain of Custody requirements.”

  1. FSC 100% for wood sourced from FSC-certified forests, managed according to FSC’s rigorous environmental and social standard.
  2. FSC Mix for wood sourced from a combination of FSC-certified forests, FSC-controlled material (where the company’s due diligence minimizes the risk of procuring wood from unacceptable sources), and/or recycled material.
  3. FSC Recycled for material made from 100% recycled content, either pre-consumer or post-consumer reclaimed material.

Even the certifiers themselves are not above scrutiny, according to Richmond. “FSC works with an auditing body called Assurance Services International, which periodically reviews our work to verify it is thorough and accurate.”

Beyond Responsible Wood Sourcing

For C. F. Martin & Co., the advantages of FSC go beyond responsible wood sourcing. “Martin now builds guitars with a greater range of tonewoods than previously,” Dickinson observed. “Plus the supply situation is ever-evolving. Our FSC certification provides access to the FSC portal, which we use to find FSC-certified sources to meet our needs.” FSC-certified wood also lessens concerns regarding certain tonewoods’ legality. It is another safety measure, like CITES and the Lacey Act, to ensure our wood is not illegally harvested or traded. 

“We buy as much FSC-certified wood as we can because it is the right thing to do,” stated Chris Martin, C. F. Martin & Co. Executive Chairman. “We hope it reinforces for wood suppliers around the world that sustainable forests are truly valuable—economically, ecologically, and culturally.

“Every few years, we assess our relationship with the Forest Stewardship Council. We always come to the same conclusion: FSC sets the gold standard in responsible forest management.

“When my daughter reaches my age, my hope is that our drive toward sustainability will have paid off, with stable, environmentally healthy, and economically viable forests that can provide the mature trees C. F. Martin & Co. will need, in the quantity we need. Our strong commitment to FSC and FSC-certified woods comes at a price, both in effort and in money. It is a price we are willing to pay to secure the future—not simply the company’s future, but everybody’s future.”

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Marshall Newman has contributed his writing work to Martin Guitar publications for two decades and also has written for other publications, including Acoustic Guitar and The Wine Spectator. Marshall is an avid guitar player and longtime Martin guitar owner. In fact, his very first guitar was a 1941 Martin 00-17.