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SFI Releases New Sustainable Forestry Standards, NGO Says Not So Fast

Words by Leon Kaye

Last week the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) released a new set of standards that will guide the organization’s certification practices through 2019. SFI claims that its standards include policies and guidelines that will help protect water quality, biodiversity, wildlife, endangered species and old-growth forests in the United States and Canada.

The new rules also promise everything from managing the “visual impact” of forests, respect for indigenous peoples’ rights, investment in forestry research and technology, and transparency. According to Lawrence Selzer, chair of the SFI’s board of directors, "The revised SFI standards will continue to serve as a proof point for responsible forestry in North America  ... These standards are shaped by the people and communities who put them into practice every day."

This could be a new beginning for SFI, which has been dogged by allegations of deceptive marketing while working as a front for private companies. In recent years companies have shunned SFI while the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) continues to gain more traction in the industry. So, with these new directives, is SFI to be believed?

Not so fast, says one NGO.

Forest Ethics has released a report that compared forest audits in Canada over the past 10 years. The report claimed it assessed various criteria, including both organizations’ auditing teams, the audit processes and the level of transparency within their publicly issued reports.

The biggest overall difference, according to Forest Ethics, was the rigor SFI and FSC took towards evaluating their reports:

  • FSC auditing teams were over 75 percent larger than that of SFI’s.

  • An average FSC audit took three times as many auditor days than that completed by SFI.

  • An FSC auditor typically spent more than four times more days per 100,000 hectares than an SFI counterpart.

  • SFI audit teams were heavily staffed by representatives from the logging industry; almost one-quarter of FSC auditors came from First Canadian (indigenous) groups, while none participated in SFI audits.

  • FSC found as much as four times the amount of non-conformance incidents per audit than those conducted by SFI.

Considering 40 percent of Canada is forest, which in turn provides 10 percent of the entire world’s forest cover, Forest Ethics’ report should catch the attention of companies and consumers. At a time when eco-labels are all the rage, what a label actually means can confuse anyone from a firm’s procurement officer to the everyday consumer. If transparency and inclusion are important to those concerned about the fate of the world’s forests, then they need to play close attention to the products they buy.

Just because FSC applies more rigor to its auditing process does not mean SFI is doing a poor or terrible job. But forest stewardship is more than counting trees — human rights and biodiversity are part of this equation, too, so it behoves SFI to rely less on public relations and invest more in its auditing.

Image credit: FSC

Based in California, Leon Kaye has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. He shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com.

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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