Ultimately, it’s all about responsible forest management and credible eco-labelling. But we’ve come to a point where we can’t see the trees for the labels. Carsten Huljus, Director of GFA Certification, speaks his mind in an interview with NEPCon on the FSC trademark rules from a certification body perspective.
Why do you think the FSC trademark rules should be simplified?
The current complexity leads to the overuse of resources and causes frustration among certificate holders. There’s a clear message coming across from our FSC-certified customers that they’re unhappy with the trademark requirements.
On a typical day, our clients submit 120 artworks for approval. We have to reject roughly half of these due to trademark non-compliance. Our clients want to do things the right way, but the standard is too complex and not sufficiently self-explanatory.
Our clients sometimes become very dissatisfied and refuse to use the trademarks altogether, which limits the visibility of the FSC logo in the marketplace.
I’ve been in the FSC certification business since 2002 and, for sure, trademark protection has improved in many ways over the years. However, we’ve now reached a point where it has become too bureaucratic.
Certificate holders are required to seek certification body approval for their FSC trademark use prior to publication. This is why millions of trademark approval requests are handled by FSC certification bodies each year. A large part of those resources from certificate holders, certification bodies, FSC and ASI (Accreditation Services International) could be better spent on certification quality management on the ground, and following up on serious trademark infringements.
Also, the strong focus on the details of design is not productive. A certificate holder can lose the certificate for using label colours that are slightly wrong, and a certification body can lose their accreditation for letting this pass.
What do you think should be done to address these issues?
The current trademark review by certification bodies should be replaced by self-approval procedures, plus sample checks during annual audits. FSC auditing is generally based on sampling, and I don’t see any reason why evaluating trademark compliance should be treated any differently.
The FSC Trademark Standard itself should be simplified and made clearer. There are too many grey zones and I would prefer fewer, but clear-cut, requirements.
Also, FSC should provide a wider range of trademark user tools. I love the FSC label generator, which enables trademark users to produce the correct labels smoothly and efficiently. I would like to see this tool expanded to include all the options available for label use, for example, an invoice label incorporating the specific claim that is only required for invoices.
These types of adjustments are clearly feasible without simplifying the rules to a level where this would weaken FSC’s ability to protect its trademarks. After all, FSC is about responsible forest management. This is what attracted me and many others to the scheme in the first place. When you are forced to focus on small details that are completely detached from the forest, you start losing the sense of what it’s all about. We need to get back to the forest.
Mr Huljus supports the FSC General Assembly 2014 Motion 29, which calls for simpler trademark rules and procedures.
This article was first published in the FSC General Assembly newsletter on 9 September 2014.