The home page today of the SFI Program website includes this headline:  SFI Applauds EU’s New Illegal Logging Rules, with a link to a new press release.  Embedded in the press statement is another link to a new fact sheet on the subject: Addressing EUTR Requirements Through SFI Certification.  This is, of course, just the latest in a long series of posts on this and similar subjects that we’ve been seeing for months.  Enforcement of the EU’s newest timber legality legislation (European Union Timber Regulation or EUTR) is clearly a big deal – especially for players in the European import markets.  All the prominent SFM programs are promoting the (more or less equivalent) value they offer in providing pre-cooked Due Diligence System (DDS) formats.

MixedWood has been getting a lot of inquiries on this subject recently, and is following some interesting online discussions like this one on LinkedIn.  The people I talk to are frustrated and looking for clear solutions.  From where I sit, I have to conclude that there just aren’t any.  A big problem is the awkward mis-match between SFI and PEFC.

Here’s the problem:

While it is true that the SFI Program is both a member of and is endorsed by the PEFC system, this endorsement only applies to its Forest Management standard.  Take a look at either of the links in this paragraph – click on the “endorsement”: tab and look for the asterisk.  What does this mean?  It means that the vast majority of “SFI certified” products now being trading in North American markets are not eligible for PEFC certification or labeling at all.

Viewed from a supplier’s point of view, this might not matter.  The problem is that markets are not typically driven by suppliers, they are driven by customers.   Right now, a lot of European customers who regularly buy North American wood products are asking their suppliers to provide them assurances that these products comply with the new EUTR requirements.  American exporters are responding with offers of SFI certification.  If the European customer expresses a preference for the more-familiar PEFC brand,  the whole transaction derails.  SFI just doesn’t convert to PEFC.

I suppose that one outcome of this confusing mess could be that the SFI label and brand could become more fully recognized and valued in European markets.  Just as likely – in my view – is that both PEFC and SFI will continue to lose ground in their competition with the FSC brand.  With all its flaws, the FSC certification brand has achieved a consistent value in international markets – something PEFC & SFI seem unlikely to achieve anytime soon.