Who's Peddling Pulp Fiction in the SFI vs. FSC Forestry Wars?

Pity the shopper who wants to buy "green" paper or forest products.

They can choose products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

Only the most dedicated deep-green consumer can be expected to understand the differences between the two.

And few know there's a war of words going on between backers of the FSC and SFI.

Todd Paglia, executive director of the activist group Forest Ethics, says this about the SFI:

SFI is dangerous because it is a lie -- it tells consumers that the product bearing the label is green when it isn't. SFI allows logging in old growth, logging in endangered species habitat, clearcut logging on landslide prone slopes above salmon streams…. In other words, business as usual with a "green" façade.

When industry is helping write the rules and set its own standards they will be high on rhetoric and extremely low on substance. That is SFI: This is a fake eco-label of, by, and for the forest industry.

Not surprisingly, this kind of talk angers the folks at SFI -- so much so that they approached The New York Community Trust, a foundation that supports Forest Ethics, to complain. On its website SFI says:

ForestEthics continues to peddle pulp fiction about the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, repeating the same old inaccurate and misleading information.

With just 10 percent of the world's forests certified to any certification standard, groups should work together to increase responsible forestry. Instead, ForestEthics spends energy and resources on well-funded attacks to discredit SFI, often citing outdated, incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information.

Such conflicts aren't unique to the forest products industry, although the rhetoric here is unusually heated. Eco-labels are supposed to guide consumers to environmentally friendly choices, but they have become so numerous -- more than 300, by some estimates -- and so confusing that consumers now need their own guides to eco-labels, like this Greener Choices website from Consumer Reports. Meanwhile, organizations that create standards have formed their own organization, called the ISEAL Alliance, to separate good standards from the not-so-good. It's like a Good Housekeeping seal for other seals. With words like "natural" and "sustainable" and "green" being thrown around, it's likely that some consumers just give up trying to figure out which claims are meaningful and which are not.

eco labels

In the forestry wars, Forest Ethics announced a victory this week: Seven companies, including four from the FORTUNE 500 -- Aetna, Allstate, Office Depot and Symantec -- said they would phase out their use of the SFI label.