If You Can't Beat Them, Try to Silence Them with Lawyers

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Logging Industry-Funded Forest “Certification” Entity Threatens ForestEthics with Lawsuit
A phony logging industry “eco-certification” entity funded by Weyerhaeuser, Plum Creek, International Paper, Sierra Pacific and other U.S. logging companies attempted last week to bully ForestEthics into silence.

Sorry, SFI (the so-called Sustainable Forestry Initiative), we’re not going to stop talking about your greenwashing of clearcuts, chemical spraying and logging of endangered forest areas that you “certify” as “good for forests.” We call ‘em like we see them, and SFI’s claim that it’s an “independent nonprofit public charity” protecting forests with scientifically credible standards is a lie.

Don’t get me wrong, SFI has plenty to be upset about. Weyerhaeuser, Plum Creek and many others have spent tens of millions of dollars creating and funding the SFI program to label the paper and wood they sell from destroyed forests as “sustainable.” SFI sells itself as an “eco-label” that unsuspecting companies use to indicate to their employees and customers that the wood and paper they use or sell is responsibly harvested from forests. It was working–they tricked a lot of companies into thinking the label meant something special. Just in the last two years, however, over 20 major companies, including Energizer Batteries, Office Depot, AT&T and Allstate Insurance, have begun moving away from using the SFI label.

The solution for SFI is to radically change its approach, not use lawyers to try to silence its critics. And the organizations critical of SFI go well beyond ForestEthics to include many of the biggest names in the environmental movement: Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

But bullies want to bully, and SFI’s lawyers demanded that ForestEthics “cease and desist” from calling out SFI. For example, SFI objected when we said that the SFI was “owned and operated” by some of the biggest names in the logging industry. ForestEthics said this in an email to our supporters–an imprecise communication medium to say the least.

What’s SFI’s point? The program is birthed by logging companies and the primary logging industry trade association, and almost entirely funded by SFI’s “participants” (at least 93% of its annual budget). Yet SFI says they are technically a nonprofit, and since no one “owns” a nonprofit, they therefore have no “owners.” Really?

If this is the best SFI can come up with to defend its greenwashing ways, things will only get worse for them. You cannot lawyer your way into being seen as honest and independent. Despite the fact that nearly all of SFI’s funding comes from the logging industry, SFI still claims it is “fully independent.” This is the sort of “independence” that has led SFI to certify as “good for forests” the following practices by Weyerhaeuser, Plum Creek, Georgia Pacific (the Koch family), Sierra Pacific and its other donors:

• Huge clearcuts

• Logging of old growth forests

• Logging in endangered species habitat

• Clearcutting steep slopes near salmon streams

• Aerial spraying millions of gallons of chemical herbicides

In addition, a review of SFI’s forestry “audit” process tells you all you need to know: After checking out over 500 of those audits it appears that no company has ever lost its SFI certification. Plus, many companies don’t even get criticized by SFI for the worst kind of logging—the kind that results in huge landslides, or which harm or kill endangered species. There is seemingly no logging practice so destructive that SFI will not call it green. You have to at least credit them with an inordinate amount of chutzpa.

Sustainable Forestry Initiative is the best greenwashing that money can buy. That’s why so many retail companies have dropped the SFI label and it’s also why the premier green building system, LEED, has refused SFI’s many attempts to make SFI-certified lumber eligible for LEED green building points.

None of this will slow down even if SFI goes through with its threat and attempts to silence ForestEthics with a lawsuit. And this is the central lesson that SFI and its corporate backers refuse to learn: No matter how much logging industry money is used to disguise SFI, the truth always has a way of getting out.