SFI Forest Partners Program Destroys Forests & Misleads Public

The SFI Forest Partners Program misleads consumers and corporate buyers about the logging industry’s irresponsible and destructive logging practices. In 2012, the Sustainable Forest Industry (SFI), which is governed and financed by the logging and paper industry, launched a marketing initiative that misleads consumers looking for responsibly-logged forest products. The SFI Forest Partners Program, announced in partnership with major publishers including Time, National Geographic Society, Macmillan, and Pearson, promised to improve forest management. Unfortunately, the Forest Partners Program relies on the SFI’s weak standards, lax enforcement, and deceptive verification audits. The Forest Partners Program is just another example of SFI’s efforts to greenwash forest destruction. 

Courtesy of Francis Eatherington

The top seven problems with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Forest Partners Program are that it is: 

  1. Irresponsible: Due to its reliance on SFI’s inadequate forest management certification and SFI’s meaningless fiber sourcing certification, the SFI Forest Partners Program lacks basic requirements for environmentally and socially responsible forest management, including strong and consistent protection of old growth and high conservation value forests, habitat conservation or restoration, limited use of clearcutting, prohibitions on deforestation and conversion to plantations.

  2. Misleading: While the SFI Forest Partners Program creates the impression that it increases certified acreage and fiber, it has no requirements to do so. The program does not require mills to purchase logs from certified forests. Rather, mills can purchase fiber or logs from virtually any source, apply an SFI “Certified Sourcing” label to it, and market it as “sustainable.” As a result, customers who think they are supporting sustainable forestry are actually using uncertified fiber from business-as-usual industrial forestry. 

  3. Destructive: Among the harmful forest management practices allowed by the SFI and its Forest Partners Program, is the conversion of vast areas of the Southeast US and other regions into intensively-managed plantations of exotic or cloned pine trees that harm wildlife and biodiversity. The program does not require certified companies to restore those areas to native and natural forest conditions. 

  4. Lacks Verification: The SFI Forest Partners Program has no required field verification to confirm forest manager compliance with bare-minimum Best Management Practices (BMP) and other important conservation practices. SFI Forest Partners Program participants aren’t audited by independent third parties. Therefore, the SFI Forest Partners Program offers little insight into its customers’ supply chains concerns, while implying that SFI certification is a legitimate response to purchaser companies’ preferences for certified sustainable inputs.
  5. Lacks Transparency: The only publicly available information about the SFI Forest Partners Program is marketing rhetoric about the SFI that has nothing to do with this specific program’s requirements and outcomes. No explanation or examples are provided about how the SFI is making certification “more accessible” for small and medium forestland owners, or is otherwise encouraging them to become certified. There is no information about how much forestland has been certified to the SFI forest management standard as a result of the program, and what significant improvements in forest conservation and management have been required as a result of the certification. 

  6. Undermines Real Solutions: By undercutting reputable forest certification in the market and pulling in purchaser company resources that could be invested responsibly elsewhere, the SFI is undermining the market for green products. 

  7. Risky: The misrepresentation of certified products as “green” can be, when exposed, tremendously damaging to consumer confidence and to brand equity. This is why so many environmental leaders have denounced SFI

Because the SFI Forest Partners Program greenwashes forest destruction, sourcing from SFI and publicly supporting this program is environmentally irresponsible and a risk for any affiliated brand. SFI-certified products may hurt wildlife, degrade biodiversity, and violate human rights. Promoting a program with ambiguous, unsupported claims misleads consumers and customers. Environmentally responsible companies, or even those simply concerned with brand reputation, can avoid controversy by committing to avoid promoting and sourcing from SFI or participating in the SFI Forest Partners Program.