The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is one of the better known ‘certifiers’ of ‘sustainable forest products’ but, according to ForestEthics, a binational non-governmental organization, and Greenpeace, “SFI’s claim that it is an independent, non-profit public charity is deceptive and misleading because SFI is substantially governed and financed by the timber industry and because its vague and ambiguous forestry standards are developed and approved by timber industry personnel in a closed process”. ForestEthics has asked the US Federal Trade Commission to investigate its claim that SFI’s advertising is misleading. SFI has threatened to sue ForestEthics, something that ForestEthics states that it will vigorously defend.
ForestEthics has outlined its complaint as follows:
- Independent forest certification is important in the growing market for “green” forest products.
- SFI’s claim that it is an “independent non-profit public charitable organization” is deceptive, is likely to mislead the public, and therefore violates the Green Guides provisions. [The Green Guides are the FTC’s guidance document for environmental labeling and advertising of products.]
- SFI’s forest management standards were not developed by a “voluntary consensus standard body” and therefore violate the Green Guides provisions.
- Because SFI’s forest management standards are so vague that an auditor cannot apply them objectively, SFI’s claims of third-party certification are deceptive.
- Consumers of timber and forest products would reasonably rely on SFI’s claims of independence and certification.
- SFI’s deceptive claims have a material effect on consumer choices.
According to ForestEthics, a number of companies have announced plans to withdraw their products from SFI certification.
A summary of the ForestEthics’ complaint and a link to the full 22 page FTC filing are available at http://forestethics.org/news/forestethics-files-complaint-federal-trade-commission-charging-sustainable-forestry-initiative