More Brands Dump Sustainable Forest Initiative’s Paper Certification Program

sustainable forest initiative, sfi, paper certification program, forest stewardship council, FSC, forestethics, greenwashing, Office Depot, Southwest Airlines, HP, Cricket Communications, todd paglia, supply chain, cease and desist letter, leon kaye, pulp and paper, paper certification
ForestEthics has led the charge against SFI

On Wednesday, ForestEthics announced that more major brands have moved away from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) paper products certification program. Office Depot, Southwest Airlines and Cricket Communications have joined HP in the shift away from the U.S. paper industry-backed SFI in the tussle over certified paper products.

ForestEthics has long alleged that SFI is a front for the paper industry, and a Fall 2010 report accusing SFI of “greenwashing” was been just one battle in the fight between paper certification programs including the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

The announcement comes despite what ForestEthics describes as tactics attempting to “bully” the organization into silence. According to Executive Director, Todd Paglia, SFI and its backers, which include Weyerhaeuser, International Paper and Sierra Pacific, have engaged lawyers in an attempt to squelch ForestEthics’ criticism of SFI.

Last month, a Seattle law firm sent ForestEthics a “cease and desist” letter over the semantics of how the Seattle-based group described SFI’s structure–and reminded ForestEthics of the technicality that a nonprofit cannot be “owned” by anyone. Nine days later, ForestEthics’ lead council responded in kind with a tit-for-tat response.

Meanwhile, ForestEthics displays an infographic on its site describing in detail the influencers behind SFI’s paper certification scheme.

Legal antics aside, the number of major brands who have either dropped SFI or are shifting away from it now stands at 24. HP has announced that all of its everyday paper products are now only certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. AT&T, Allstate, Pitney Bowes and United Stationers have also indicated they are moving away from using SFI-certified paper.

ForestEthics has long criticized SFI for what the NGO describes as “greenwashing” and has pressured companies to become more accountable for paper sourcing throughout its supply chain; expect more converts despite SFI’s well-funded backers–and the “SFI Program” meme who has penned a canned response to almost every 3p article mentioning SFI.

The shift away from SFI and alignment with FSC is in part due to the shakeout in certifications–expect more programs covering everything from paper to fair trade to ethically manufactured products to disappear over time. And the stubborn fact remains that as consumers pay more attention to what goes on behind the scenes and in the supply chain, transparency will win. SFI can indulge in all the legalese it wants–but SFI’s ties with pulp and paper companies leave it with a huge perception problem. Instead of hiring lawyers, SFI should start by cleaning house–with a chain saw.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. You can find Leon on Twitter and Instagram (greengopost).

[Image credit: ForestEthics]

Leon Kaye

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He is currently Executive Editor of 3p, and is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media. His previous work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). He's traveled worldwide and has lived in Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

3 responses

  1. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc. (SFI) is dedicated to responsible forestry and works with thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations across North America to implement and improve best management practices for water quality, to conduct important conservation research, to train loggers in responsible forestry and work with landowners on habitat management for a wide variety of species. We are supported by government, academic and conservation agencies in the U.S., Canada and internationally, we partner with well-known conservation groups, and we work with academic institutions – all to ensure forests remain healthy and vibrant and that they are harvested and regenerated in a responsible manner. Our goal is healthy, thriving well-managed forests for today and for future generations to come.

    It is unclear to us what ForestEthics’ goal is. We believe they are threatening companies that buy paper, wood and packaging products, and we know they are misrepresenting our program. We know they have received funds to promote FSC and we know they have received funds to undermine SFI. We know that they have utilized photos from natural disasters to inaccurately portray these unfortunate events as SFI current practices. We know they are behaving irresponsibly and we know they are undermining the good work of both SFI and FSC, as many buyers are growing tired of Forest Ethics, and by association, the important topic of forest certification.

    It is unfortunate that ForestEthics has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to harass companies to choose FSC rather than SFI, when both programs are part of the solution. ForestEthics misrepresented the truth citing 24 examples (over the past two years) of companies disassociating themselves with SFI. To put that number in perspective, SFI receives 24 requests to use the SFI label every business day, on average – more than 6,000 requests in 2012.

    We know that Office Depot, and the overwhelming majority of organizations that ForestEthics names in their releases continue to purchase SFI paper products and continue to recognize the value of our program and continue to purchase paper certified to the SFI standard. We know that many of these organizations would like to see these campaigns come to an end because they recognize they are undermining numerous institutions that are working hard to promote responsible forestry and are misrepresenting the views of corporations and the forestry practices and claims associated with the SFI program.

    What large corporations in the supply chain understand is that we need more responsible forestry, not less. These corporations also understand that regardless of a company’s decision about which certification label to put on a product, the supply chain is mixed: SFI content is found in FSC-labeled products and vice versa. They see the value of both of our certification programs and often prefer some aspects of one program over another, but they do not disassociate themselves from responsible forestry and therefore they do not disassociate themselves with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative or the Forest Stewardship Council. However, that day will come if these campaigns persist, and the good work of thousands of individuals working to provide clean water, thriving forests, wildlife habitat, strong communities and jobs will be compromised.

    SFI’s recognition and support are growing because these stakeholders understand that the future of our forests depends on the actions we take today, and that SFI’s independent, rigorous and science-based standard is improving conditions in forests across North America every day. That’s why SFI has become the world’s largest single forest certification standard, with over 200 million acres in North America certified to the SFI Standard. And SFI continues to raise the bar by requiring that program participants invest in conservation research – with $1.3 billion invested since 1995.

    ForestEthics’ anti-SFI attack campaign is ineffective and misleading, and it wastes resources that would be much better used to promote forest conservation. We urge them to put their dollars to good use and work with us or other organizations on real projects that promote real conservation benefits in our forests. We invite ForestEthics to stop misleading people and instead join SFI and hundreds of thousands of stakeholders around the world who are working day in and day out to advance the cause of sustainable forestry. Forest Ethics, like any individual or organization are welcome and encouraged to participate in the SFI Standard revision process which will be launched this summer and includes at least two 60 day public comment periods, numerous public workshops, a transparent comment and response process and an external review panel to vet our standard revision process.

    Learn more about SFI and get the facts at
    What Others are Saying about SFI (2.5 min video clip):

    Kathy Abusow
    President & CEO
    Sustainable Forestry Initiative

  2. I have no dog in the sustainable wood fight, but as a veteran in the organic/Fair Trade movement I’m well-versed in certification fights. And as a green shopper whenever I see the SFI logo on a product I think “oh, that brand wanted the cheaper, easier option – not the more sustainable one”.

    So maybe all these brands that are dropping SFI – or backing off from them – are realizing that SFI doesn’t provide the green halo effect (or the real sustainability) they had hoped it would.

    Also, in SFI’s response here they try an ad hominem attack on the character of ForestEthics. In other words they’re hoping by dissing the messenger they can distract you from the message.

    To that I’ll point to Marc Gunther, a long time reporter on CSR issues, and of untainted integrity. Back in 2011 he wrote “..there are good reasons to trust FSC, and some to be suspicious of SFI” (see ) By the way, this article puts a much different gloss of the perspective of Office Depot, and one that I think undermines the imagine painted by SFI in their response. In it the reader can clearly see that Office Depot views SFI as a weak standard.

    And Sustainable NorthWest Wood also comes down clearly on the side of FSC. This short post quickly lays out the problems with the SFI program.

  3. This article parrots the ForestEthics narrative quite well. ENGOs such as ForestEthics are essentially proxies for the international FSC establishment and employ intimidation and threats of market boycotts in rolling over weak, confused or exhausted corporate spin doctors.

    As an independent consulting forester and lead auditor of environmental management systems familiar with the major sustainable forest management schemes used in North America, the differences between them and in the case of FSC, within them, are largely esoteric and quite subjective to an informed public.

    Within a regulatory environment such as that found in North America, a legacy of sustainable forestry has become the law and when viewed subsidiary to a more holistic environmental management system, virtually any legal forest harvesting under forest practice law can on occasion, surpass any certification system in terms of life cycle assessment and the bigger picture. IOW, why should I move wood halfway around the planet so someone can see the FSC label when I can access products from “sustainably” managed legal forest practices (whether SFI or not) across the street!

    Sustainable forest management standards, boiled down, are generally an opinion, whether ascertained by consensus (CSA-Z809) or prescriptive and subjective (FSC and SFI) and as such, have no morally superior standing by virtue of the level of brute force employed in marketing.

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