- Xerox, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Delta Dental and Bigelow Tea have expanded on their commitments to support responsible forestry by distancing their brands from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a controversial paper and wood certification scheme.
- More than 30 companies have committed to stop promoting SFI to date, including numerous Fortune 500 companies.
- The global market for certified forest products was worth more than $20 billion in 2013.
There’s a huge market out there for forest products, like paper and hardwood floors, that have received some sort of certification for being sustainably produced. In 2013, according to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the global market for certified forest products was worth more than $20 billion.
But not all certification schemes are created equal. San Francisco-based non-profit ForestEthics has been urging companies that care about the impact of their business operations on forests to ditch the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) label. SFI, the group says, “is governed and financed by the same logging companies that it certifies.”
Four major consumer brands in the US — Xerox, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Delta Dental and Bigelow Tea — have just taken ForestEthics’ advice to heart and expanded on their commitments to support responsible forestry by distancing their brands from the controversial paper and wood certification scheme.
“Companies don’t want their brands associated with the practices that SFI approves, like massive clearcuts and poisoning communities,” Jim Ace, a forest campaigner with ForestEthics, told Mongabay. “These companies did what was best for their brands, which is to avoid misleading consumers and promoting forest destruction.”
To date, according to Ace, more than 30 companies have committed to stop promoting SFI, including numerous Fortune 500 companies like Disney, 3M, AT&T and Office Depot.
What does it mean to “stop promoting” SFI? Ace says the companies will stop using the SFI label on their products and taking credit for using SFI-certified fiber, while avoiding any public reference to or association with SFI.
“Their next step is to implement their commitment and continuously monitor their marketing and external communications,” Ace said. “Beyond that, they can develop responsible paper procurement policies to ensure that their supply chains are free of controversial sources, which several have already done.”
How does the Sustainable Forestry Initiative mislead consumers who think they’ve purchased a socially and environmentally responsible product when they see it bears the green SFI tree label?
Ace said that SFI certifies irresponsible and even illegal logging practices that have a disastrous impact on North American forests. The average clearcut approved by SFI is the size of 90 football fields, he says, which causes a variety of negative impacts on forests, water quality, and wildlife.
SFI also allows excessive spraying of toxic pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, as well as the conversion of forests to plantations — and it all gets labeled as “sustainable forestry.”
There are other forest certification schemes out there. The Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, for instance, is the only forest certification program that aligns with the values of companies that have committed to protecting endangered forests, according to Ace. “Brands from Disney to Xerox recognize FSC as the gold standard,” he said.
The world’s forested area is declining rapidly, and pressures on forests from human activities are expected to continue growing. Illegal logging is still a serious problem, with the global trade in illicit timber estimated to be worth between $30 and 100 billion every year, according to UNEP, which says that more sustainable trade in timber and non-timber forest products can significantly increase transparency in the forestry sector, particularly through the use of certification schemes.
As of early 2013, UNEP found, the total area of certified forest worldwide was close to 400 million hectares (more than 988 million acres), representing approximately 10 percent of global forest resources.
“We rely on healthy, natural forests for paper and wood, but also for clean water and preserving wildlife and biodiversity,” Ace said. “As long as the logging industry’s SFI can mislead consumers and the market, we have less power to improve how forests on private lands are managed.”