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Green Building News

Sustainable Forestry Initiative Accused of Greenwashing

The lumber certification agency is accused of deception in a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission

A logging operation in Grant County, Oregon.
Image Credit: Library of Congress

A West Coast forest advocacy group is renewing greenwashing claims against The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) in a new filing with the Federal Trade Commission.

ForestEthics said its 22-page complaint alleges SFI has violated revised FTC “Green Guides,” which are designed to ensure manufacturers are truthful when claiming their products are green.

ForestEthics says SFI is supported by the timber and paper industry, and that it permits forestry practices that harm wildlife, pollute water and allow the use of toxic herbicides and fertilizers.

“The Sustainable Forestry Initiative label is the timber industry’s cynical effort to get a piece of the highly valuable green marketplace in the US, which is currently valued at $500 billion dollars annually,” Aaron Sanger of ForestEthics said in a prepared statement. “We have demonstrable proof that in many regions of the U.S. and Canada, SFI offers virtually no environmental protection beyond that already required by state and federal laws and worse, it offers cover and false marketing for companies trying to take advantage of consumers’ best intentions.”

The complaint was filed May 29 by the Washington Forest Law Center on behalf of both ForestEthics and Greenpeace.

The dispute goes back to 2009

ForestEthics first filed a complaint against SFI four years ago. Federal regulators took no action then, SFI said, and the new complaint amounts to “recycling” the tactic used at the time.

“ForestEthics is a campaign group,” Monique Hanis, SFI’s chief operating officer and vice president for marketing and communications, said in a telephone interview. “Its purpose is to attack our organization. This is all about market share. Their object is to provide misinformation and to promote the [Forest Stewardship Council], our competition.

“We have the opinion that there’s room for both and that we should all just be focused on trying to certify more forest land and continue to improve best practices for sustainable forestry.”

Hanis said SFI is governed by a board that represents three sectors equally: environmental, social and economic.

“SFI is committed to complying with the FTC Green Guides on environmental labeling and advertising,” she said.

Hanis added that SFI is about to start a review of its standards. “We invite ForestEthics and any other organizations that have concerns about our standards or our program to participate in this.”

No lawsuit for now

In announcing its new complaint, ForestEthics said it had received a “cease and desist” letter from SFI in April, which amounted to a “threat to sue.”

Hanis said a letter asking ForestEthics to “stop using misleading information and incorrect facts about our program” was sent. When asked whether SFI had plans to file suit, she said, “No, not at this time.”

2 Comments

  1. Thomas Nedelsky | | #1

    Fact Check, please
    Scott,
    Could you please fact check FrrestEthics assertions and report back? I would find that very helpful.

  2. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Response to Thomas Nedelsky
    Thomas,
    The FSC vs. SFI controversy has been going on for years, and these issues are subject to debate. The controversy is evidently now headed for the courts. Let's let the judge decide.

    If you Google "FSC SFI," you'll get enough documents to keep you reading for hours. Here are a few to get you started:

    "A Comparison of the American Forest & Paper Association’s Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council’s Certification System"

    FSC vs. SFI - What's the difference?

    A Picture Is Worth: FSC vs SFI Forests

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