Campaign against Sustainable Forestry Initiative Escalates

Picture 2ForestEthics versus SFI. The green industry is overwhelmed by trustmarks and certification organizatons. As a result, consumers don’t know whom to believe anymore. As it turns out SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) is funded and managed primarily by large logging companies, whereas ForestEthics is an environmental nonprofit dedicated to protecting endangered forests. (And then there’s the Forest Stewardship Council – FSC – just to make things even more complicated, as highlighted in this NY Times article.)

Both ForestEthics and the Sierra club have filed complaints against SFI at both the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service. The organizations accused the certification program of lax standards and deceptive marketing intended to obscure responsible foresting standards. But this ongoing war came to a head at last week’s Greenbuild conference.

Greenbuild, the world’s largest green building conference, took place in Phoenix, Arizona and featured Al Gore as the keynote speaker. The day after Gore urged his audience to crack down on greenwashing, ForestEthics released a large floating banner exposing SFI (pictured above). It read “SFI=Greenbuild wash.” Personally, I think they could’ve come up with something much more clever and descriptive, but that’s just my opinion.

In addition to their [somewhat lame] sign, ForestEthics ran an ad in USA Today’s Phoenix edition on the conference’s opening day, spotlighting SFI’s “greenwashing practice” of certifying forest destruction as “sustainable”. Copies of this ad (seen here) and a brochure detailing SFI’s shortcomings circulated throughout estimated 25,000 people at the conference.

The Washington Forest Law Center in Seattle is the legal firm that filed the complaints against SFI. It’s director, Peter Goldman, believes that “They’ve essentially created a green certification system to promote their sales… We believe S.F.I. has confused the marketplace.”

Audrey is a freelance copywriter. She has worked with every kind of company, helping them to communicate their message of sustainability. Careful to never greenwash, Audrey believes that transparency in marketing is just as important as branding. And that doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive. When she's not blogging, marketing sustainability or writing radio commercials for Chinese food, you can find Audrey rock-climbing, riding her bike around San Francisco, or looking for work (she's available for hire, call now!)

9 responses

  1. …all of which is even more reason to take a look at the technology that Singapore-based Double Helix Tracking Technologies is developing. I wrote about them here yesterday: DHTT is using DNA to track timber –it’s like a paternity test for wood. A scientific solution like this will add clarity to the muddled –and often fraudulent –paper-based verification and certification systems that are the industry standard today.

    1. I am all for certifying forestry but FSC needs to come clean about the way auditing changes from country to country. How come in some of the more wealthy countries they don’t recognise native forestry and in the third world countries this isn’t the case? How come they certify plantations who do not take biodiversity into consideration and clear fell? Just a couple of the many discrepencies in there certification.

      1. Not to mention that FSC has problems with compliance monitoring.

        You can have the best science-based standards in the world, but if nobody is monitoring at lots of certified sites (especially in remote parts of the developing world), how can you know whether the wood was, in fact, sustainably harvested?

        Having cutting-edge standards is only one half of the battle. Having adequate compliance monitoring and enforcement is the other.

        I’ve seen some graduate students explore this issue, but we need to get more bodies on the ground out there in FSC forests — and even in SFI forests — gathering more data and helping refine these systems’ true impacts on metrics of forest ecosystem health.

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