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More Brands Dump Sustainable Forest Initiative’s Paper Certification Program

Words by Leon Kaye

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 GreenGoPost.com 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 headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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