Greenwashing in the New Yorker: The Sustainable Forestry Initiative

sfismall.jpgCruising through the New Yorker, I came upon this full page ad titled "Meet the New Environmentalist- these days, a growing number of consumers want the good life, but not at the expense of the environment. So when they shop for everything from newspapers to building materials, they look for SFI certified wood and paper products. These products come from well managed forests certified to the SFI standard. To learn how to keep our forests healthy, visit "

So I did. It is a "program is based on the premise that responsible environmental behavior and sound business decisions can co-exist. SFI program participants practice sustainable forestry on all the lands they manage. They also influence millions of additional acres through the training of loggers and foresters in best management practices and landowner outreach programs."

Sounds good so far, chain of custody, certified content, who is behind this? I look at the board members and see foresters, the American Bird Conservancy, the Pacific Forest Trust, and also every big lumber company in North America. I look at the history and see that it was founded by the The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA;), the lumber industry trade association.

I have always been a real fan of the FSC certification and consider it to be the gold standard, so I was pleased to see a pdf comparing the two standards in their participant resources. One of the purported benefits of SFI over FSC: "Vast majority of supply can keep product on the shelves by encompassing:

85% of wood panel production
92% of pulp production
84% of paper production
87% of newsprint production
93% of containerboard production
And more. Why it seems that on average, 88% of North America's forestry is happy, healthy, sustainable and SFI. I had no idea things were so good in the woods.


Well they are not. It turns out that dozens of green conservation groups from the Sierra Club to Forest Ethics to the Rainforest Action Network say:

"The SFI is not a legitimate measure of sustainable forestry. Consumers wishing to conserve forests should reject the SFI's claims."

The Alliance for Credible Forest Certification, "comprised of non-profit conservation organizations and others dedicated to credible certification and other market-based solutions for protecting and restoring forest ecosystems, including American Lands Alliance, Dogwood Alliance, ForestEthics, Greenpeace, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Council Maine, Rainforest Action Network, and the Sierra Club." says:

The timber industry's Sustainable Forestry Initiative does not protect forests or deliver credible assurances. The SFI condones environmentally harmful practices including large-scale clearcutting and chemical use, logging of old growth and endangered forests, and replacement of forests by ecologically degraded tree plantations. And there's no guarantee that many products marketed as SFI have any connection to SFI certified forests"

Ninety scientists wrote SFI and said:

Our greatest concerns regarding the SFI certification standards are based around three main inadequacies: the SFI does not discourage logging and buying of wood from the most biologically diverse and sensitive areas; the SFI allows for the conversion of native and natural forests to single species pine plantations; and the SFI allows for logging practices that can be harmful to habitat and water quality, including large-scale clearcutting and the intensive use of herbicide and fertilizer spraying."

Bruce King of the Ecological Building Network says

Notwithstanding the bewildering flurry of facts and quasi-facts that are being tossed about in an already complex debate, relying on SFI to certify lumber is in my view tantamount to hiring the fox to guard the chicken house. As a professional engineer, but mostly as a father, I would prefer that there still be healthy old-growth forests around when my grandchildren's children are here in my place. For that reason, I can only in good conscience rely on FSC to deliver to my clients truly sustainably-harvested wood."

It appears that SFI is blatant greenwashing, and New Yorker ads notwithstanding, does not compare to the gold standard set by FSC. Much like the Green Globes we covered earlier, it appears to be an industry smokescreen to placate the "new environmentalist"


Tags: Advertising | Greenwashing


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