Daniel Hall of the American Lands Alliance adds that there’s no guarantee that products marketed as ‘SFI-certified’ actually originate in SFI-certified forests. “It’s anybody’s guess as to what’s actually in them,” he said. “In fact, over half of SFI companies’ wood doesn’t even come from SFI forests, and there’s no consumer warning when products contain non-SFI content.” For its part, SFI says its label means “the facility that produced the product bearing the label is part of a program whose participants plant more than 1.7 million trees every day.” That would seem to mean that the trees cut down to make the product were owned by an SFI member.
Last March, the Dogwood Alliance coordinated a letter signed by more than 90 Southern scientists calling for an overhaul of SFI’s standards. The letter calls SFI “a misleading marketing and advertising tool” to convince customers that industrial forests are well managed.
“The flora of the Southeastern U.S. is extremely rich in biodiversity,” said one of the letter’s signatories, Dr. (Jenny) Qiuyun Xiang of North Carolina State University. “Clearcutting of natural forest communities from the region will undoubtedly reduce the abundance of these species, destroy the natural habitats of animal species associated with the communities, and threaten the biodiversity at all levels in this region.”
SFI should not be confused with the similar-sounding Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which also certifies wood products. Although FSC has also borne the brunt of environmental criticism, the anti-SFI campaign says it “represents the minimum threshold for meaningful certification systems.” Among other things the campaign points out: FSC is predominately funded by outside sources and governed independently of the companies being certified. FSC also prohibits the takeover of natural forests by plantations; requires old-growth protection in certified forests; and discourages intensive chemical use. FSC certifications are peer-reviewed, while SFI’s are not.
SFI has its defenders. Forex Log and Lumber calls it “an exacting standard of environmental principles, objectives, and performance measures that link sustainable forestry with the protection of wildlife, plants, soil, water quality, historical, geological and cultural resources.”
Brian Kozlowski, director of environment for the North American operations of Finland-based paper-making giant Stora Enso, argues, “In our view, neither FSC nor SFI is better than the other.” Kozlowski says his company views both systems as credible, and adds, “Any of the many forestry certification systems around the world—in South America, Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere—that meet our standards have value.” He says Stora Enso won’t buy wood from “conservation areas,” which he says include old growth, unless the region is part of a “sustainable plan.”
The Eco-Labels project of Consumers Union (the publishers of the popular Consumer Reports magazine) considers SFI “somewhat meaningful.” The label won points for having information on its standards publicly available, for having some transparency and for being independently verified (SFI uses auditing firms such as Price Waterhouse Coopers and BioForest Technologies and has an advisory “Independent Expert Review Panel”).
However, SFI lost points with the Eco-Labels project for having a lack of broad public input and other issues. “Some of the indicators are vague or very qualitative, which could limit the consistency of the label among certified forests,” explains the Consumers Union. “For example, certified companies with research components can simply donate to themselves in order to meet the requirement for funding conservation research.” Further, guidelines do not distinguish between plantations and old growth forests and genetic engineering is permitted. SFI claims to represent people outside the forest industry on its 15-person board, and it explains that by outsiders it means (in addition to a few environmentalists) “logging companies, trade associations and non-industrial working forests,” reports the Consumers Union.
Not only is this bizarre word play that should shame even the harshest critic of former President Bill Clinton, but it is a conflict of interest according to the Consumers Union.
If you were impressed by SFI’s claim that there is more forested land today than at the time of the first Earth Day in 1970, consider that industry’s numbers count monolithic pine plantations as “forests.” But Quaranda points out that pine plantations (three quarters of which were once covered in natural tree growth) are 95 to 99 percent less biologically diverse than natural forests. And while SFI member companies do indeed plant millions of acres in new seedlings, it’s only good business practice. “You’re talking about a ‘forest’ that is being planted just to be cut down 20 years later,” Quaranda said.
Don’t Buy the SFI
Sustainable Forestry Initiative