FSC® & Greeting Card Publishing

Dec 19, 2023 | Environment

The Greeting Card Association’s series of blogs covering Sustainability in the Card Industry is designed to share good practice, celebrating the work that is being done in our industry to reduce our environmental impact and inspire others.

This blog contains the latest information and advice from the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®), to ensure your cards are printed on materials that support responsible forestry.

What is FSC?

The Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) is an international, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting responsible management of the world’s forests. Since its foundation in 1994, FSC has grown to become the world’s most respected and widespread forest certification system.

FSC’s pioneering certification system, which now covers more than 200 million hectares of forest, enables businesses and consumers to choose wood, paper and other forest products that support responsible forestry.

Credible certifications, such as FSC, can offer consumers assurances about the sustainability of the products they choose to buy, and those used and sold by the brands and retailers they shop with. Concern about the environment crosses the generations, so let’s work together to make sure our choices reflect our beliefs and aspirations

Tallulah Chapman, Communications Manager, FSC UK

Greeting Cards and FSC Certification

Greeting card publishers can benefit from the FSC certification scheme by using FSC-certified paper and boards for their products. The FSC label on a card indicates to customers the paper used in the product comes from a responsibly managed forest and will demonstrate a publisher’s commitment to sustainability and the environment.

Publishers do not have to hold FSC certification to use the FSC label on their products, most will use their printer’s FSC certification. However, publishers can apply for their own certification (see below) and either outsource their printing or print in-house. Holding FSC certification means a publisher is free to use any printer (certified or uncertified) to produce FSC-certified products.

Please remember if you switch the production of your greeting cards from one FSC printer to another FSC printer, or if you change between FSC Mix and FSC 100% recycled board used to make the cards, you must update the artwork on the card to reflect the changes!

Ian Braithwaite, Commercial Manager at Fedrigoni UK

Consumers and businesses are all aware of the need to reduce their environmental footprint, so an FSC message is important to consumers who are looking for environmentally and socially responsible products.

FSC-certified forests

FSC forest management certification confirms that a forest is being managed in a way that preserves biological diversity and benefits the lives of local people and workers, while ensuring it sustains economic viability. There are ten principles that any forest operation must adhere to before it can receive FSC forest management certification. These principles cover a broad range of issues, from maintaining high conservation values to community relations and workers’ rights, as well as monitoring the environmental and social impacts of the forest management.

FSC in the supply chain

FSC Chain of Custody certification verifies that FSC-certified material has been identified and separated from non-certified and uncontrolled material as it makes its way along the supply chain, from the forest to the market.

Any company involved in the processing or transformation of FSC-certified products (e.g. manufacturing, repackaging, pack-splitting, relabelling, cutting to size or adding other forest-based components to the product) must be FSC certified in order to apply an FSC label to their products and/or sell them with an FSC claim. FSC chain of custody certification is therefore required by any paper mills, paper merchants and printers that wish to apply the FSC labels or sell products with FSC claims.

FSC-certified materials, labelling and promotion

Paper and other print substrates made from trees are both renewable and recyclable, but only when they are responsibly sourced and considerately processed. FSC-certified printers offer their clients the ability to demonstrate their commitment to responsible sourcing through the use of FSC-certified papers and the application of the FSC labels.

In research conducted in 2022 on behalf of FSC UK, 6 in 10 people in the UK reported becoming more conscious of the sustainability of both products and packaging, with 35% saying they keep an eye out for certification labels when shopping for forest-based products. 76% of people in the UK now recognise the FSC logo and two thirds of those who had seen the logo are also confident they understand, at least roughly, what it means. Once the meaning was explained, 7 in 10 people said they would prefer to buy a forest product bearing the FSC logo, as opposed to one without, only 1 in 10 stated that this was unlikely to positively influence their purchasing decision. Half of respondents even said they would be prepared to pay more for FSC-certified products and 65% said they would have a positive opinion of a brand or retailer if they saw the FSC label on their products (Survey of 1281 UK adults conducted in March 2022 by Kantar via OnLineBus).

To ensure that printed materials can carry the FSC label, it is essential that they are produced on FSC-certified materials by a printer or manufacturer covered by a valid FSC chain of custody certificate. Organisations that sell-on FSC-labelled greeting cards, supplied by FSC certificate holders, can be granted authorisation to promote them using the FSC trademarks under an FSC promotional licence, thus facilitating online, offline and in-store promotions. Without holding either FSC certification or a promotional licence, organisations are prohibited from using the FSC trademarks commercially.

Suppliers may tell you, often in good faith, that their supplies are from ‘sustainable’ or ‘managed’ sources, or from plantations. But without credible certification there is often no way to know if products have been sourced responsibly.

FSC certification enables businesses and consumers to choose wood, paper and other forest products made with materials from well-managed forests and/or recycled sources.

Tallulah Chapman, Communications Manager, FSC UK

FSC has recently added the Core Labour Requirements to its certification program designed to ensure FSC-certified products are produced in a socially responsible manner. The requirements include the abolition of child labour, elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour, elimination of discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, upholding freedom of association, and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining. FSC chain of custody certificate holders must conduct a self-assessment of their conformance with these requirements and be able to demonstrate this to external third-party auditors.

The FSC MIX label is changing

Compliance with the FSC trademark standard is mandatory for all FSC certificate holders making use of the FSC trademarks. In January 2022 a new version of the FSC trademark standard for certificate holders (FSC-STD-50-001 V2-1) became effective. One important change is a revision to the MIX label text. The new MIX label text is ‘Supporting responsible forestry’.

The new FSC Mix label

The new label, featuring this text, is available for certificate holders to download from the FSC Trademark Portal. Between 1 January 2022 and 30 June 2024, certificate holders may use the old or the new MIX label. From 1 July 2024, only the new MIX label will be available for use. Find out more about the new FSC MIX label, the rationale behind the change, and relevant timelines in this factsheet. For more information on the FSC labels in general (including FSC 100% and FSC Recycled), click here.

Using an FSC-certified printer

Printed materials can only carry an FSC label if they are produced and labelled under a valid FSC Chain of Custody certificate. To ensure your printed materials carry an FSC label you should:

• Use an FSC-certified printer.

• Specify FSC-certified materials from the outset and request that the printer apply the appropriate FSC label.

• Ensure any supplementary text about FSC is approved by the printer’s FSC-accredited certification body.

To find greeting card specialist printers, recommended by other members, search by ‘printers’ in our Members’ Directory.

Getting FSC certified

Greeting card publishers do not have to hold FSC certification in order to have their cards carry an FSC label (see above) but they may apply for their own certification and either outsource their printing or print in-house. Holding FSC certification means a publisher is free to use any printer (certified or uncertified) to complete print jobs under an outsourcing policy. Certified publishers can use their own licence number within the FSC label and make FSC claims on their outgoing invoices.

To obtain FSC certification, publishers or their printers must follow the FSC Chain of Custody (CoC) certification process, in line with the requirements of the FSC Chain of Custody standard. The CoC certification process ensures that the FSC-certified products are tracked throughout the supply chain, from the forest to the final product. The CoC certification process involves three main steps:

  1. Initial assessment: The publisher must identify the scope of the certification, including the products and processes to be certified. The publisher must also identify the sources of the raw materials used in the products.
  2. Implementation: The publisher must implement the necessary procedures to ensure that the FSC-certified products are tracked throughout the supply chain. This includes keeping records of the sources of the raw materials used in the products and ensuring that the FSC-certified products are separated from non-certified products.
  3. Certification: The publisher must undergo an audit by an FSC-accredited certification body to verify that the CoC procedures are being followed. If the publisher passes the audit, they will be issued with an FSC CoC certificate, an FSC certification code (XXX-COC-000000) and Trademark Licence Code (FSC®C000000).

To new start-ups and even established publishers this can all appear quite daunting. It shouldn’t be – there is lots of help available from specialist industry suppliers and FSC UK [see below]

Ian Braithwaite, Commercial Manager at Fedrigoni UK

Getting a promotional licence

If you buy FSC-labelled products from an FSC-certified supplier, and sell them on unchanged to the public, a promotional licence may offer an alternative to chain of custody certification.

A promotional licence allows an organisation to use the FSC trademarks promotionally, but does not allow it to apply the FSC trademarks to products or sales documents. To get a promotional licence:

• Contact FSC UK

• Complete an application form provide evidence of the certified status of any products your organisation sells/uses

• Sign your FSC licence agreement

• Gain trademark approval and receive an FSC promotional licence code (FSC®N000000)


Q: Do I have to hold FSC certification to publish FSC-labelled cards?
A: No, but your printer must be FSC certified and printing on FSC-certified materials.

Q: Can I make a text claim instead of using a label?
A: No. The FSC trademark standards do not permit the use of text-only claims such as ‘printed on FSC-certified paper’.

Q: I am publishing FSC-labelled cards but I am selling them with non-FSC envelopes, is this ok?
A: Yes, in this case the label only refers to the product on which it is printed. However, you should not imply that the envelopes are also certified.

Q: Will every card design have to be submitted to the certification body for approval?
A: The approvals process is managed by the FSC certificate holder. A generic format may be approved for use on all your cards as long as an approved FSC label is being properly used and the printer is considered by its certification body to have a good track record.

Q: Does my finishing company need to be FSC certified?
A: No, by this time the cards are already printed with the label, so the finishing company does not need to be certified.

Q: Can I use the FSC trademarks on my website or in a catalogue?
A: Yes, as long as you hold either FSC certification or a promotional licence. Contact FSC UK for further details.

Further information

For latest information and tips on reducing your environmental footprint see the GCA’s Into a Greener Future blog

For GCA member case studies, changes to the law and other important information please visit our members’ library and see our Environment section (please log in to see all relevant information).

Contact FSC UK for advice and guidance on FSC certification, policies and standards. To subscribe to their monthly Forest Matters newsletter visit their website (https://uk.fsc.org/).

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