Staying green with SFI


The Seattle Times published a story over the weekend about Weyerhaeuser’s use of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standard for its wood and paper products. An advocacy group called the Washington Forest Law Center, led by millionaire Peter Goldman, filed a complaint way back in the fall seeking to revoke Weyerhaeuser’s SFI certification. The complaint is part of an all-out assault on SFI by Goldman, who has also asked the IRS and Federal Trade Commission to take a look at the environmental standard.

Goldman is one of the most powerful people in Washington politics, by virtue of his vast inherited wealth and his innumerable campaign contributions to politicians across the state. What he is up in the arms about is that there are two standards for sustainable forestry — SFI and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) — and Goldman doesn’t think that SFI is strict enough.

Truth is, SFI is consistent across the board, and FSC has different standards depending on the state. SFI is also completely independent and has 16 years of history ensuring that forest practices are sustainable and responsible.

The most interesting part of the Seattle Times story may not be the story itself, but the reader comments, where a passionate debate ensued.

Here’s what reader “janeofearth” had to say:

What this articles fails to address is WHY there are NO timber companies in Washington State that are FSC certified. It barely touched on the idea that FSC certification standard vary from place to place. It makes it so that the something FSC certified in one state could not be FSC certified in our state. When standards are not universally standard, they lose their meaning.

The standards for FSC certification vary from state to state and country to country. The standards in Washington State are anywhere from 2 to 5 times HIGHER than other states in the US. That means companies in WA have to do 2-5 times more to get the same recognition. The standards (which relate to how much you can clear cut, how many trees per acre you have to leave on the ground, etc) are so high that they are not economically feasible for ANY company. That is why no one in WA is FSC certified.

Companies like Weyerhaeuser who have been operating fairly sustainably in the past decade or two have to compete with supposedly FSC-certified companies in other countries who have the shiny FSC label but actually have lower standards. With the FSC label, you think you’re getting something good. But depending on where you get it from it might not be that great.

Someone as powerful as Goldman can grab headlines by filing legal complaints, but it certainly doesn’t mean he knows what he’s talking about. Anyone in Washington who relies on working forests — from timber communities and loggers to private landowners and consumers of forest products — knows that forests can be harvested in a responsible way, while still providing livelihoods for Washington families.