I have been conscious lately that my comments in this blog have tended to be critical of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) but have not had to say about our other prominent program “green” certification program, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).  This has troubled my sense of fair play and seemed to conflict with a sincere intention to be balanced and strictly non-partisan in this space.  The truth, of course, is that FSC has given me a lot to write about this year.  But that may be changing this week.

A colleague and friend in the business sent me this press release the other day.  It is issued by ForestEthics as part of a long-standing, and rather nasty campaign that they have maintained against the SFI program.  ForestEthics is, of course, a well known and highly successful ENGO campaign organization.  They are very good at promoting their causes and attracting attention in the business and mainstream press.  Reading through the ForestEthics anti-SFI material is a worthwhile exercise for anybody in this business.  On the surface, it seems to lay out a pretty convincing case.  In the view of ForestEthics, the SFI program (and apparently each and everyone associated with it) is nothing but a dishonest and (apparently) illegal front group for a bunch of lying, thieving, dishonorable corporate scoundrels, whose only goal is the rapid destruction of everything good and pure in our world’s forests.  What I find most interesting (& frankly amusing) is the surprising similarities between ForestEthics’ criticisms of SFI and similar criticisms (by other NGO’s) of  the FSC:  ForestEthics favorite alternative!  The best example of this is by a group called FSC Watch.

The latest ForestEthics attack on SFI comes in the form of a formal complaint to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  It is a bit long and somewhat repetitive, but I found it rather interesting reading.  It’s central thesis seems to be that the SFI program lacks the independence necessary to be credible as a standard-owner in the field of environmental responsibility standards.  Their supporting evidence calls attention to SFI’s heavy reliance on funding from the forest product industry and the involvement of industry executives on various governing and administrative committees.  This reasoning is just bizarre.  A quick comparison to FSC shows why.  It is apparently OK for FSC to rely on industry executives in its governing structure and to fund itself by charging fees to its industry stakeholders, but for SFI this is (apparently) evidence of dishonest malfeasance.  SFI has – of course – responded to the ongoing attacks with their own communications which you can read here.

As interesting as the latest ForestEthics attack is, it is not news.  My inspiration to write today came from another announcement – this one from SFI – that came to my inbox just a day later.  It is an announcement of the first stage of SFI’s scheduled update to their program standard documents.  It’s also an invitation to submit comments and criticisms which is something everyone with a stake in this program should do.

MixedWood intends to take part in the SFI standard review process and you should too.  We feel that SFI is an important and credible player in the field of green certification standards.  We also feel that the program has some serious flaws and weaknesses that need to be addressed.  I will be providing direct comment to SFI staff through their consultation process as well as more of my own commentary in this space.  All of my comments will be thoughtful and constructive.  My hope is that they will help SFI to grow and improve.

ForestEthics has already had a lot to say about SFI, but the effect of their campaigning so far has been like an angry man, shouting on a street corner and throwing rocks through office windows.  SFI has – in effect – opened the door and invited them in.  Do you think they’ll find a way to sit down and speak politely about what’s on their mind?  We’ll see.