For FSC, Little Time to Waste

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.

FSC forests compared to clearcutted SFI forests

By Kyle Gillis

In late 2012, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) will unveil its new certified wood policies for its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) MRc7 credit rating system.  Up until now, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has benefited from being the only certification label recognized under credits for the LEED buildings, but in recent years the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) has been lobbying the USGBC to recognize their label under LEED.  SFI’s argues that 60% of FSC-certified wood comes from outside the U.S. and Canada, leading to dramatic increases in CO2 emissions, thereby eliminating any positive effects of the certification.  Sounds all well and good right? Well, as they say, the devil is in the details.

SFI was created by the forest industry in response to the FSC certification.  Yup, that is right.  SFI is funded by the forest industry to regulate and certify sustainable forest management.  It has long been documented that SFI standards allow for the clear-cutting methods of harvesting and for the conversion of old-growth forests to tree plantations. Both of these practices are prohibited under FSC standards.  Therefore it is no surprise that ForestEthics published a report called SFI: Certified Greenwash that charges its “greenwash does more than confuse and misrepresent—it damages the very forests, communities, water and wildlife that are essential for our health and quality of life.”  The report debunked many SFI claims about the rigor of its certification, detailed by this recent article.

In addition, ForestEthics, along with the Sierra Club, has filed complaints against SFI at both the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service accusing SFI of lax standards and deceptive marketing intended to obscure responsible foresting standards.  Yet, despite all the negative publicity for SFI, it is very close to being included in the USBGC LEED rating system due to its substantial funding from industry sources.

But there is good news.  FSC has many current relationships with USGBC voting members that will determine the fate of the next LEED certified wood policy.  These relationships provide a key competitive advantage over SFI and will play a critical role in the fate of FSC.  Partnering with credible non-profits, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and FSC certified companies, FSC can apply pressure on the USGBC to reject SFI by promoting the recent ForestEthics report and other negative findings.  Leveraging these relationships through a strategic marketing campaign to differentiate its brand from SFI, demonstrate the benefits of FSC certification, and grow the number of certifications will position FSC to remain the sole provider of LEED certified wood.

FSC must also employ a customer-focused element to its marketing campaign to affect behavioral purchasing habits.  A campaign that highlights the extreme difference in the quality of FSC standards compared to SFI standards in the eyes of the consumers will drive the market to prefer FSC certification and place more stress on the USGBC to decline extending the credits to accept SFI.

The success of FSC’s targeted marketing campaign toward the USGBC will not only be important to build its brand and retain its status as the only recognized LEED certified wood, but also to uphold the integrity of the LEED rating system.