Office Depot, Allstate Among Major Firms Cutting Ties with SFI Wood Certification

Office Depot, Allstate Among Major Firms Cutting Ties with SFI Wood Certification

Office Depot, Symantec and wholesale business products distributor United Stationers are among the seven firms that will no longer use the Sustainable Forestry Initiative logo on branded paper products or company publications, advocacy group ForestEthics said today.

Joining the three Fortune 500 firms in commitments were Aetna and Allstate, which are also Fortune 500 companies, clothing and home decor designer Garnet Hill and bicycle store chain Performance Inc., according to ForestEthics.

The announcement, the latest salvo in a longstanding dispute over wood certification standards, left SFI President and CEO Kathy Abusow unfazed.

"The reality is that ForestEthics wishes there was only one standard, FSC (the Forest Stewardship Council)," Abusow told GreenBiz.com and GreenerBuildings.com. "We have no qualms with people who have a preference for FSC. If this is a decision they've made that's fine -- but if it's a decision they made based on misinformation, that's something else."

Both ForestEthics and SFI have accused each other of dispensing misleading and inaccurate information. ForestEthics, which issued a report lambasting SFI last fall, has decried SFI as being a tool of the timber industry and says the organization is greenwashing. SFI, which countered with a "setting the record straight" statement, says it has shed industry ties and toughened its standards, changes which the organization contends critics refuse to acknowledge.

In its announcement today, ForestEthics listed the company actions, saying:

  • Aetna committed to phasing out use of the SFI logo on printed marketing materials.
  • Allstate will shift all office paper in Allstate facilities nationwide from SFI certified to FSC certified.
  • United Stationers committed to using FSC as its benchmark for forest certification in procurement and marketing.
  • Symantec removed SFI language from the firm's website and committed to integrate this position into internal practices for paper marketing materials and packaging.
  • Garnet Hill will no longer print its catalog on paper labeled with the SFI seal.
  • Performance Bicycles will no longer print its catalog on SFI certified paper.
  • Office Depot will phaseout use of the SFI logo on Office Depot-brand papers.

The commitments are a result of the organization's work with major companies in an education campaign that's about a year old, said ForestEthics Director of U.S. Campaigns Aaron Sanger. The organization hopes that the firms that allowed their plans to be aired yesterday are the first of several, he said.

Sanger also pointed to the significance of the company commitments regarding marketing and communication materials. "All of these companies want to be trusted in the environment," Sanger said. "It's one thing to buy products that may have some materials associated with this problematic -- and we call it phony -- standard; it's another thing to promote it." The firms that have promised to remove the SFI logo or references to SFI from customer- and public-facing materials, in effect, would no longer be doing so.

In response to ForestEthics renewed accusations of greenwashing, Abusow dismissed the criticism as "pulp fiction" and slander that does greater harm to the movement for sustainable forestry than to her organization.

"Saying no to us based on misinformation is very damaging, because you're not just saying no to us," said Abusow, describing education, training and research programs SFI fosters among landowners, tree-growers, loggers, schools and others. "You're saying no to this community support network to sustainable forestry."

In North America, 184 million acres -- 58 million in the U.S. and 126 million in Canada -- are certified to SFI standards. Counting the SFI-recognized labels of the American Tree Farm System and Canada's National Sustainable Forest Management Standard, SFI embraces 365 million acres, according to the organization.

The Forest Stewardship Council certifies almost 132 million acres in North America -- nearly 34 million acres in the U.S., 96 million acres in Canada and more than 1.5 million in Mexico, FSC says in statistics that were updated this month. Globally, 333.2 million acres in 81 countries are certified to the FSC standard.

While Abusow notes that SFI is the dominant standard in the market, Sanger at ForestEthics contends that's because "SFI is a very easy seal to have -- it's pervasive on many products because its very easy to get."

"We think there's room for more than one standard in the market -- choice in the marketplace is good, provided choices are made based on accurate information," said Abusow of SFI. "And I think the fact that our program has grown year after year after year speaks for itself." In an emailed statement, she added, "It is my opinion that when people do their homework they will more likely come away with the impression that ForestEthics' actions and pressure tactics are quite unethical and oftentimes misleading."

Image CC licensed by McD22