What to Do When Forest Ethics Comes Knocking?

What to Do When Forest Ethics Comes Knocking?

Companies large and small have made great strides in relying on forest certification standards for sourcing wood and paper products. Unfortunately, a group called ForestEthics is engaged in a campaign to pressure companies to choose only one standard, the Forest Stewardship Council, to the exclusion of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which I run, and all the others. FSC is certainly a strong option, and both of our programs have grown stronger because the other exists. However, this campaign is undermining not just SFI, but all of the valued forest certification programs. And it could have unintended consequences for forests and communities across North America.

Recently, ForestEthics announced that several Fortune 500 companies had stopped using SFI. We checked with most those companies and found that many were caught in the unfortunate position of managing ForestEthics pressure tactics and had no desire to take such a public stance.

These companies, as we currently understand it, have not stopped using products from SFI certified companies, but most have been pressured to drop the use of the SFI label on products as a mechanism to appease ForestEthics.

Why it is acceptable to ForestEthics that companies still source from SFI forests, provided they don't label it? Could it be that ForestEthics only cares about appearances? Does ForestEthics understand that FSC-labeled products can include a substantial amount of SFI-certified content thanks to complex supply chains? Why is it acceptable to ForestEthics that the FSC label be put on products containing SFI content and yet it is unacceptable for the SFI label to be put on products containing SFI content?

We hope those supporting ForestEthics will take a closer look at its contribution to responsible forestry, and also take a closer look at SFI's contribution. We hope they will recognize that 37 SFI implementation committees have trained or recognized training for more than 100,000 loggers. We hope they will come to realize SFI's contribution to landowner outreach and education, and the training and awareness that is provided for adherence to best management practices for water quality. For example, our program participants have invested more than $1 billion in forest research to help drive continual improvement.

The truth is, independent experts and respected organizations around the world, including the United Nations and Society of American Foresters, have recognized multiple certifications and report that there is a growing convergence among them. According to the National Association of State Foresters, SFI, FSC and other standards used in North America "include the fundamental elements of credibility and make positive contributions to forest sustainability."

We are puzzled that a program that invests in conservation and community grants to solve local, national and international forestry issues should be the subject of a misinformation campaign. We know that the market, science-based conservation groups and our partners are tiring of this. Moreover, they know that shunning domestic products from forests managed to high standards hurts forest communities and costs jobs.

So, what's a responsible procurement professional to do? First and foremost, get the facts. Don't fall prey to pressure tactics. Be informed, check facts directly with forest certification programs and make informed decisions that align with your organization's values. Look for inclusive policies that open the door to all credible tools that advance sustainability agendas. When buying forest-based products (such as office paper or packaging or building products), look for products that carry the SFI, PEFC or FSC label. Only 10 percent of the world's forests are certified, so seeking these products helps create demand for certifying the remaining 90 percent.

We aim to work constructively with organizations throughout the supply chain to ensure that these campaigns don't cause procurement professionals to throw up their hands and decide that responsible forestry is more trouble than it's worth.

In the end, we can all have preferences, but it is healthier and more sustainable if these preferences are a product of informed decision-making and not the result of pressure tactics. Guilt, pressure and misinformation are not the ingredients that drive sustainability.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user richardmasoner.