As the climate crisis intensifies, scientists point out that conserving primary forests Must be a global priority to protect carbon stocks. Yet a chance to protect these forests is undermined by the so-called Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), a forest certification system established by the forest industry to give consumers the impression that certain operations were sustainable, as an alternative to more widely respected Board of Forest Stewardship. For years, environmental and human rights experts have widely castigated SFI for greenwashing: mislead the public about the true costs of its certified logging operations.
IFC complaints what it is new standards, launched in January 2022, “supporting SFI’s leadership in providing solutions to some of the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges. But the public and large corporations that purchase SFI-certified wood products should not be fooled. SFI’s requirements for logging operations continue to be weak, vague, and risk certifying operations that may have violated Indigenous rights and destroyed large areas of primary forest.
SFI in Canada
Canada has one of the tallest in the world levels of industrial clearcutting of vast primary forests: places that have never been connected. Primary forests contain critical carbon reserves, which will need to remain intact in the fight against civilization-destabilizing climate change. Primary forests include traditional territories indigenous peoples and offer vital habitat for threatened forest species. They are irreplaceable in their values and are shrinks rapidly industrial disturbances. Yet the Government of Canada and industry players allege that industrial logging in these regions is sustainable in large part because much of Canada’s forest land is certified by third-party organizations.
Yet certification is a poor justification for clearing some of the world’s last primary forests. Not only does overreliance on certification allow Canada to shirk responsibility for legally binding forest protections, but Canada has lowest percentage protected lands of G7 countries, for example – but it also legitimizes weak forest certification systems, whose requirements are too weak and/or nebulous to prevent harmful logging practices. SFI, in particular, is a notoriously weak forest certification system which is nevertheless the most widely adopted forest certification in Canada (with much more forest area certified as FSC). IFC promises that its new revised standards include important safeguards, but a careful examination of its requirements reveals largely weaker and inconsequential requirements for forest companies. Although the Sierra Club has made an excellent in-depth analysis many of its shortcomings, here is a look at some of its most concerning weaknesses:
SFI does not require free, prior and informed cooperationnsent of indigenous peoples
Secure the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples who could be affected by industrial operations is one of the minimum rights that any company operating in the traditional territories of indigenous peoples should respect. Yet many of Canada’s most powerful forestry companies do not guarantee that the CLIP has been obtained for their operations. Rather than hold these companies to a higher standard, SFI is letting them off the hook, risking SFI certification of operations that fail to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples.
For example, the SFI 2022 standard said certified forest operations “must recognize and respect the rights of indigenous peoples” and “must develop and implement a written policy recognizing a commitment to recognize and respect the rights of indigenous peoples”. Yet the nature of these specific rights is totally vague, and the words “recognize” and “respect” do not in fact require any adherence to respect for specific rights. SFI also does not require companies to engage with potentially affected Indigenous peoples on their “written policy,” which means that policy is likely to be little more than a logging company wants it to be. Lumberjacks are supposed to “confer” loosely and “are encouraged to communicate with” indigenous peoples whose very rights may be affected by logging operations on public and private lands respectively. Surprisingly, the forest management standard does not mention FPIC or “consent” at all. This represents a failure to demand respect for minimum specific Indigenous rights.
SFI fails to protect primary forests
Primary forests contain vital carbon storage, provide refuge for endangered species and have other critical ecosystem values. In recent years, Canada has experienced the third highest level of decline intact forest landscapes (large connected areas of primary forest) on a global scale, which means that the protection of these areas is urgently needed. Yet the SFI Standard does not require any protection for primary forests and/or intact forest landscapes vulnerable to logging. In fact, neither “primary forests” nor “intact forest landscapes” appear in the standard, despite the fact that the unique value of these undisturbed areas is a concept widely recognized by scientists, environmental groups and even the FSC. This gaping lack of protections could allow logging companies to boast SFI approval for their operations while clear-cutting some of the world’s largest natural carbon reservoirs.
SFI fails to protect endangered species
Erosion of Canada’s forests is alarming species decline and push species at risk to the brink of extinction forever. Species threatened by industrial logging include the iconic boreal caribou: a species that requires older intact forest landscapes to survive over time, and a species that is deeply integral to many Indigenous cultures in Canada. Again IFC, unlike the FSC, does not even mention caribou in its forest management standard, and more broadly its references to endangered species are far too vague to require meaningful protections. For example, the standard states that “Certified organizations must apply knowledge gained through research, science, technology, field experience, and results of monitoring the effectiveness of conservation-related programs to manage wildlife habitat and contribute to the conservation of biological diversity. However, this then goes on to indicate that information guiding a policy can come from virtually any “reputable” organization, without the need for it to be scientifically peer-reviewed and/or verified by indigenous wildlife experts. . The standard’s weak language risks creating a self-regulatory dynamic in which companies can create extremely weak policies without having to prove their effectiveness, or even that they have a strong evidence base.
IFC Labels are misleading
The “SFI Certified Sourcing” label is one of the most misleading facets of SFI, which allows wood products from forest operations without any SFI certifications (or stronger certifications) to carry an SFI logo, as long as certain vague requirements are met. IFC States, “The SFI Certified Sourcing label and claim do not claim certified content,(my italics). This is another way in which SFI certification can be deeply confusing to consumers, and SFI’s practice is even worse than competing certification systems that allow limited volumes of wood to be “mixed” with wood from their own certified operations. SFI’s Certified Sourcing label allows potentially huge volumes of timber harvested by operations with even weaker guarantees than SFI to enter the market with an SFI seal of approval. This logo also gives international companies that rely on SFI logos enormous leeway to market products made from irresponsibly logged timber as sustainable to their consumers.
SFI: More of the same greenwashing
SFI has had the opportunity to take years of criticism and turn it into meaningful policy changes. Instead, it has entrenched itself even further as a deceptive greenwashing institution. Unfortunately, in Canada, the federal and provincial governments are complicit; they should stop treating all certifications equally and naming third-party certification as sufficient proof of the sustainability of logging operations. Companies should also stop characterizing SFI as meaningful evidence of responsible operations. With climate change and global species loss reaching dizzying heights, we don’t have time for snake oil certifications.