Sustainable Forestry Initiative
The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is a 'forest certification standard' and program of SFI Inc., a non-profit organization. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative is the world’s largest single forest certification standard by area.
In 2005, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), which itself is the world's largest forest certifications system, recognized the SFI standard.
The SFI standard covers key values such as protection of biodiversity, species at risk and wildlife habitat; sustainable harvest levels; protection of water quality; and prompt regeneration. A new SFI 2010-2014 Standard, developed through an open review process, took effect on Jan. 1, 2010. All SFI certifications require independent, third-party audits and are performed by internationally accredited certification bodies.
The SFI program only certifies lands in the United States and Canada, and program participants must comply with all applicable laws. For sources outside of North America without effective laws, participants must avoid illegal or other controversial sources. The SFI program supports activities by international experts to find ways to address the problem of illegal logging and is a member of the international, multi-stakeholder Forest Legality Alliance.
SFI has certified more than 240 million acres (100 million hectares) to its standard in the United States and Canada. At the end of October 2010, SFI had 959 chain-of-custody certifications at 2,339 locations. According to the United Nations, SFI was the fastest growing organization for chain of custody certifications in 2008.
The Board of Directors that governs the SFI program has three chambers that recognize economic, environmental and social sectors equally. Directors include representatives of environmental, conservation, professional and academic groups, independent professional loggers, family forest owners, public officials, labor and the forest products industry.
Sustainable Forestry Initiative certifies companies such as Sierra Pacific Industries and Green Diamond Resource Company. Both of these companies practice clearcutting, under the name of "even-aged management" and several other euphemisms.
Reviews and comparisons
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe/Food and Agriculture Organization, in its 2009-2010 Forest products Annual Review, says: "Over the years, many of the issues that previously divided the (certification) systems have become much less distinct. The largest certification systems now generally have the same structural programmatic requirements."
Dovetail Partners Inc., in its 2010 Forest Certification: A Status Report, states: "the previous differences between forest certification programs are much less distinct ... each program generally has the same structural programmatic requirements, although the required content and level of detail provided by each may vary considerably."
SFI is generally considered less stringent than that of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). For example, SFI allows more tree farming and does not require conservation plans or consultation with local and indigenous stakeholders (except for public lands).
SFI is less highly rated than FSC for example by Consumer Reports “Greener Choices”, and Green America. Others rate SFI/PEFC and FSC equally: TerraChoice (part of Underwriters Laboratories Global Network) in its 2010 Sins of Greenwashing report, like its 2009 one, counts the SFI/PEFC and FSC in its second-tier list of "legitimate" environmental standards and certifications.; as does Environment Canada's EcoLogo.
A National Association of State Foresters forest certification policy statement passed by resolution in 2008 states: "While in different manners, the ATFS (American Tree Farm System), FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), and SFI systems include the fundamental elements of credibility and make positive contributions to forest sustainability. . . . No certification program can credibly claim to be ‘best’, and no certification program that promotes itself as the only certification option can maintain credibility."
Green Building Council
Despite vigorous efforts to be included, SFI is not accepted by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system of the U.S. Green Building Council. Only the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has been acceptable for "environmentally responsible forest management" in LEED. As a protest over the 2010 Forest Certification benchmark balloting by USGBC members, which in effect rejected SFI, SFI even encouraged LEED projects to skip the certified wood credit and use SFI wood instead to show their “pride and support for North American Forests". Other green building tools, including two American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-approved rating systems in the United States – ANSI-ICC 700-2008: National Green Building Standard and ANSI/GBI 01-2010: Green Building Assessment Protocol for Commercial Buildings (formerly Green Globes U.S.) – Green Globes and Built Green Canada do recognize wood products certified by credible certification programs, as well as by SFI.
Unlike SFI, the FSC included environmental groups such as Greenpeace among its founders. The National Wildlife Federation and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) currently serve on the FSC Board. The Sierra Club endorses only FSC.
Critiques of SFI
On September 9, 2009 the Washington State Forest Law Center, on behalf of the environmental protection group ForestEthics, filed complaints against SFI Inc. with the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.
The FTC complaint accuses SFI Inc. of misleading consumers with deceptive marketing practices. The complaint cites various aspects of SFI’s marketing, including its claim that it is an “independent” not-for-profit organization, its dependence on the timber industry for funding, and the vagueness of SFI’s environmental standards, which allow SFI-certified landowners to be certified merely because the landowner is complying with state environmental regulations. The complaint cites SFI’s certification as an example of greenwash.
Conflict of interest
The complaint filed with the IRS requests an examination of SFI Inc.’s non-profit status, based on the fact that SFI benefits the private interests of its corporate landowners and not the public interest, as well as the fact that SFI draws more than 80% of its funding from the wood and paper industry. The complaint asserts that in serving the private interests of wood and paper companies that want a ‘green’ image, SFI is inappropriately granted a nonprofit status reserved for public charities.
Sierra Club complaint
The Sierra Club has lodged a formal complaint with the SFI, alleging that Weyerhaeuser engaged in risky and irresponsible logging on steep slopes that led to 1,259 landslides in 2007 on SFI-certified Weyerhaeuser lands in Washington state. Challenging SFI to back up its claims of 'independence' and 'rigorous audits,' the Sierra Club requested that Weyerhaeuser's SFI certification be revoked.
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- THE FOREST STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL AND THE SUSTAINABLE FORESTRY INITIATIVE: POINTS OF COMPARISON
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- Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Inc.
- Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification
- Central Point of Expertise on Timber 2008 Forest Certification Assessment
- Conservation Fund President and CEO Larry Selzer, on forest certification