New SFI Standards Still Fail To Protect Forests

Bill Walsh - February 9, 2015

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) has released its newly revised 2015-2019 Standards and Rules. Promoted as an “important advancement,” the revised standards appear to do little to address the longstanding complaints of leading environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth and the Rainforest Action Network. These groups consider the timber industry-founded, financed and governed SFI system little more than greenwash.[1] According to a preliminary analysis by long-time SFI watchdog ForestEthics, the revised SFI standards still fail to advance meaningful reform of industrial forestry practices, including some that violate the rights of indigenous peoples, decimate wildlife and habitat, degrade water quality, poison surrounding communities with toxic herbicides, and convert forests to other land uses. Key deficiencies that persist in the new SFI standards include: 

  • Failure to require meaningful outcomes in certified forests. Key SFI indicators are still process oriented, not outcome oriented. SFI auditors can certify forests that allegedly have sustainable management systems in place, but where, for example, threatened and endangered species and their habitats are being systematically eliminated. 
  • Failure to provide assurance of how forests are managed. The SFI Certified Sourcing label is the most common SFI logo. However, the SFI’s most prominent label doesn’t actually require source forests to meet the SFI Forest Management Standard, and virtually no environmental and social assurances are connected to the label.
  • Misleading purchasers. The revised SFI Chain of Custody label misleads consumers into thinking they are getting paper, wood or fiber products from SFI Forest Management certified forests. Loopholes in the system mean that this label is likely applied to products that do not necessarily even meet the SFI’s own Forest Management standards.

In a new report, Peeling Back the Eco-Labels: A Comparison of FSC and SFI Forest Certification Program Audits in Canada, ForestEthics quantifies the ways in which the SFI auditing system is weaker and less transparent than that of the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) by studying the two systems in Canada. The report analyzes all publicly available audit reports from both FSC and SFI in Canada over a period of ten years, 50 reports from FSC and 29 reports from SFI. Key findings of that report include:

  • SFI audits spend a third of the time of FSC audits—10 days vs. 29.
  • SFI audit teams are smaller than FSC teams. SFI audit teams were 43% smaller, just over half the size, of FSC audit teams.
  • 55% (16/29) of SFI audits in this study were missing critical data. None of the FSC audits in this study were missing critical data. 
  • None of the SFI audits were peer reviewed, while 92% (46/50) of FSC audits were peer reviewed.
  • SFI audit efforts result in fewer useful findings and little change in logging practices. FSC auditors average four times the major non-conformance findings per audit. Twenty-three out of the 29 SFI audit reports included no corrective action requests for major non-conformances.

The SFI was originally created as a marketing program by the timber and paper industries to counter the multi-stakeholder Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC governance structure includes the forest products industry, but provides non-industry stakeholders with more input, resulting in more rigorous standards. SFI’s new, 2015-2019 Standards boast as a sign of its rigor that it now has 14 principles, 13 objectives, 21 performance measures and 55 indicators.[2] The question is whether these revisions will result in any meaningful change in the industry practices that decimate North American forest ecosystems. The answer is no.


[1] http://www.forestethics.org/twenty-one-environmental-organizations-challenge-sustainable-forestry-initiative

[2] http://www.greenbiz.com/article/growing-trend-towards-certification-best-hope-forests


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