SFI Exposed: The destruction behind the SFI label

When you see the word “sustainable” on a product, most people assume that it’s good for people and the planet. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Take the “Sustainable Forestry Initiative” (SFI) label, for example. Created by big logging and paper corporations, SFI is a public relations and marketing scheme designed to deflect criticism, deceive customers, and promote their operations as “sustainable.” In fact, SFI rubber stamps as “sustainable” some of the most environmentally destructive and socially irresponsible practices that are having a disastrous impact on North American forests. The striking photos from Bellingham-based photographer and activist Francis Eatherington well demonstrate the devasting impacts of the SFI label. 

Massive Clearcuts 

SFI allows entire watersheds and landscapes to be destroyed. Because SFI does not set any limits on the size of individual clearcuts, SFI-certified logging operations are allowed to combine the area of clearcuts across their entire holdings and then calculate the average. In 2014, the average size clearcut across the SFI system was a whopping 73 acres -- the equivalent of 55 football fields. And because that is an average, we know that many clearcuts are much, much larger. Large clearcuts ravage the environment and can have permanent impacts on biodiversity, water and air quality, and soil health. 

Courtesy of Francis Eatherington
Courtesy of Francis Eatherington

Logging on Steep Slopes

Clearcutting and road-building on steep slopes is perfectly acceptable under the SFI standard, even though such practices cause serious erosion and increase the risk of landslides. Healthy soil is washed away, waterways are clogged with sediment, and fish habitat is destroyed. SFI also allows companies to cut all the trees right down to the banks of streams and rivers, clogging fish-bearing streams with silt and mud.

Courtesy of Francis Eatherington
Courtesy of Francis Eatherington

Toxic Trespass

SFI standards allow excessive spraying of toxic pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides that poison fresh water, wildlife, and surrounding communities. For several years following  clearcutting, many SFI-certified companies spray a toxic cocktail of herbicides over the barren landscape. These chemicals drift in the wind and poison the air, land, water, wildlife, and people.

Courtesy of Francis Eatherington

Violating Human Rights

SFI labels can be applied to products made from forests cut without consultation of Indigenous People and in violation of legal and international human rights standards. SFI greenwashing is a social justice issue.  SFI labels can be applied to products made from forests cut without consistent or sufficient consultation of indigenous peoples and communities affected by logging, and without securing indigenous peoples’ free, prior, informed consent (FPIC). 

Converting Forests to Sterile Tree Plantations

SFI certifies ecologically-barren tree plantation operations that harm ecosystems and threaten wildlife. After SFI companies clearcut, they usually plant only one species of tree, sometimes a non-native tree species. These industrial tree plantations lack real forests’ diversity of tree species, other plants, and wildlife habitat, and can also be more susceptible to invasive species and wildfire. SFI companies then promote these industrial tree farms as “healthy forests”, when in fact the original healthy forest was destroyed.

Courtesy of Francis Eatherington

SOLUTION: Commit to Avoid Promoting SFI

Timber and paper companies created SFI to continue “business as usual” logging under the guise of “sustainability.” SFI is bad for our forests, wildlife, and climate, and bad for business and the growing green economy. SFI’s misleading claim of “sustainability” undermines the hard work and smart choices of business people and consumers who make genuine efforts to be environmentally responsible. 

SFI is a significant threat to the integrity of any brand using or promoting SFI logos. We urge businesses to join the growing number of companies which have publicly commited to avoid promoting SFI so that their brand does not become associated with SFI-approved forest destruction. We urge consumers that spot the SFI logo to contact the company to complain.