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Forest certification program is logging industry greenwash: report

Forest certification program is logging industry Greenwash, says report
Photo by Francis Eatherington via Flickr

Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), an organization that provides paper, fiber, and lumber certification, is misleading consumers with its ‘green’ wood-based products in Canada, according to ForestEthics.

ForestEthics released a report on Friday comparing the thoroughness of forest audits conducted in Canada. It analyzed available audit reports from the past 10 years from the two leading forest certification systems: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the SFI. It found that SFI's certification process didn't hold companies to a high standard, in comparison to the FSC.

According to the report, SFI lacks transparency in their certification practices, has a lax auditing process, and rarely requires logging companies to take any additional action to improve operations, which should be a main focus of any certification system. 

“SFI’s ‘green seal of approval’ is governed and financed by the logging industry,” ForestEthics executive director Todd Paglia said. “It’s bunk, plain and simple.” 

'Green' label misleading: Greenpeace 

Global Forest Watch recently found that Canada leads the world in intact forest loss, which includes the degradation of intact forest.  Nearly 40 per cent of Canada’s land area is forest, making up 10 per cent of all the world’s forest cover. Between 2000 and 2013, Canada was responsible for 21 per cent of global forest degradation.

ForestEthics campaigner Jim Ace says despite those numbers, consumers are making a conscious effort to shift towards greener products -- which is why the certifications and company labels are crucial. 

“More and more Canadians are buying green now. We found a study saying 86 per cent of Canadians are buying green, and Canadian consumers rely on forest certification because they’re purchasing,” said Ace. “Thirty three per cent look for these certification. That’s why this study is so important. It shows FSC can be trusted and SFI can’t.”

The green marketplace for paper, fiber, and other timber products has grown to $1.047 trillion in 2013, according to the Environmental Business Journal. This is probably why SFI is producing misleading labels, says the report.

The report said SFI barely issued any violations of standards or non-conformance requests. Minor non-conformances do not prevent certification, but need to be corrected before the next audit, while major non-conformances prevent certification and must be fixed before the company can be certified. These systems are what allow for improvements in logging practices, the report mentioned.

Graph from ForestEthics website (and report).

“Corporate customers and the public rely on forest certifications to know that the paper, fiber, and lumber they buy is responsible,” said Paglia in a news release. “These labels should allow consumers to avoid products that destroy forests, poison waterways and wildlife, and violate human rights. In the case of SFI, the label is misleading.”

Environmentalists have been working collectively for decades to provide SFI with the steps that they need to change and stop misleading consumers, Ace said.

“We sent a 20 page letter with specifics on how the SFI could improve and strengthen it’s standards, and we’ve done that a number of times, we’re not the first organization to do so,” he added. “SFI has always taken the easy way out. What they’ll do is put a new coat of paint on it. They’ll use some fancy words and nice language, but at the end of the day, they’ll always leave a back door a side door, and three or four loop holes, so companies can continue operating just at or below what we believe.” 

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