Sales – not standards – will determine the success of FSC, SFI, PEFC and other certified wood labels, even though Forest Steward rocks
Forest Steward gives me a look that’s somewhere between angry and sad when I tell him we have to do another take. Now that Part Two of When Labels Talk is running on Natural Interiors® TV, I can understand why he is tired of repeating himself.
This empathy I feel compels me to point out that, even though I am here to present additional details that distinguish Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) from Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification, I am biased in Forest Steward’s favor.
And regardless of which label I favor, there is a bottom line to this debate that we have only alluded to. The reality is that the outcome will be defined by the number of products sold under each label.
I believe Forest is correct when he says his FSC label is superior. Nonetheless, SFI — which began as an arm of the U.S. timber industry but now stresses its independent, non-profit status — has gained market share, visibility and popularity.
While FSC has been the only certification to qualify a sustainable wood-product for credit under U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) rules, the USGBC has spent years developing a proposal that for the first time would have given consideration to SFI, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC), American Tree Farm System (ATFS) and other certifications.
The proposal was defeated last month. SFI is now calling for an FSC boycott, urging builders to forego the credit they get under LEED by using products with SFI and other certifications.
“We were not surprised that it might be a call to arms,” said Corey Brinkema, president of the FSC’s U.S. Chapter. “The problem is that they don’t get to decide. It’s up to the designers and building contractors. The A & D (architect and designer) community has been one of our strongest allies.”
As Forest Steward summarized in the time he was allotted, FSC certification goes beyond SFI in a number of important areas:
Balanced representation means extra power is not given to those with a purely economic interest in the outcome of a decision.
Prohibiting the use of hazardous pesticides otherwise widely used and EPA approved – coupled with requirements that protect rivers and other water bodies from erosion and chemical runoff — protect biodiversity in addition to our water supply and human health.
Clear-cutting, harvesting old trees and converting natural forests for development sites or tree farms all are prohibited or heavily restricted under FSC but possible under SFI. (Read more at www.fscus.org.)
In response to our invitation to comment on how SFI measures up to FSC, Jason Metnick, SFI senior director, provided a comparison chart, which verifies FSC’s more stringent standards on some points, but details many SFI accomplishments. (View it at www.sfiprogram.org/files/pdf/SFI_FSC_comparison_2010.pdf. )
Metnick also points to a March 2010 Forest Certification Status Report by Dovetail Partners Inc. – a company that analyzes impacts and trade-offs of environmental decisions such as land use, consumption choices and policy alternatives.
The report’s bottom line? Regardless of the different certifications’ impact on human health and the planet, benefits are not measures of success, the report points out.
“Each certification has to measure (its) success by the volume (and value) of products that are being bought and sold in the marketplace under their respective labels,” Dovetail’s conclusion reads. “A certification program is in essence a ‘forest products company.’ It makes very little difference how many acres might be certified or how many certificates might be issued – if marketplace transactions aren’t occurring. Without a functioning marketplace, including robust supply and demand, there is little legitimacy to an argument that any of the certification programs have the capacity to provide a lasting impact or benefit for our forest resources.”
This explains SFI’s push to increase sales by manufacturers whose products are SFI-certified, without waiting for another proposal for inclusion from the USGBC.
Yes, FSC officials need to do the same thing.
Lucky for them, Forest Steward Rocks!
– Nancy Kibbee is Editor at www.naturalinteriors.com and Producer of Natural Interiors®TV