If a Tree Falls in the Forest and was SFI-Certified, was it Harvested Sustainably?
In 2007, a series of landslides in southern Washington State caused massive flooding, killed scores of wild salmon, and cost millions to clean up. The landslides resulted from clear-cutting trees on steep riverbanks using practices approved by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).
Above: A landslide caused by logging practices certified by the
Sustainable Forestry Initiative on steep slopes above Washington State’s
Stillman Creek caused flooding, killed salmon, and caused millions of
dollars in damage downstream. Photo: David Perry
Below: After the
independent Forestry Stewardship Council redesigned their logo (also
its certification mark) in 1996, the Sustainable Forestry
Initiative-—started by the paper industry’s trade association—redesigned
its logo in 2000. Notice a resemblance?
The Initiative was started in 1994 by the American Forest and Paper Association, an industry trade group, in a bid to capture a larger share of the global green market, valued at $500 billion. In addition to SFI, a dizzying array of more than 400 “eco-friendly” product labels have been produced by profiteers intent on cashing in.
“One of the dangers is that people who are trying to do the right thing by buying green are getting duped. If they realize they’ve been duped, it may turn them off from trying to buy truly sustainable products altogether,” says Todd Paglia, executive director of Forest Ethics, an environmental group that has protected nearly 70 million acres of wildlife habitat from logging. It encourages companies to use the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, which requires companies to comply with high environmental and social standards for forest management. Forest Ethics also keeps the pressure on FSC to continually improve its own requirements.
The SFI label, on the other hand, can be affixed to “wood that barely meets legal requirements—requirements that the industry has weakened over the past 100 years,” continues Paglia. Furniture, paper, and building materials with this logo can come from old growth forests or endangered species habitat, and from companies that rely on large-scale clear-cutting or use highly toxic chemical pesticides.
Forest Ethics has been working to convince big wood and pulp buyers to stop using the SFI label. Already successful in convincing Tropicana and FedEx, Forest Ethics
is expanding this campaign using a $100,000
grant from The Trust. “In order to protect forests worldwide, we are funding Forest Ethics to not only expose SFI’s false claims, but to bolster the meaningful certification of wood and paper products by the Forest Stewardship Council,” says Pat Jenny, program director for community development and the environment at The Trust.
“Over the next generation, who decides what is green is going to be of critical importance,” says Paglia. If we are going to allow logging industry executives to decide what’s green, the future looks brown. If truly independent groups like the Forest Stewardship Council are making those decisions, it will lead to real empowerment of people to make truly green choices.”