Greenwash n. – The dissemination of misleading information by an organization to conceal its abuse of the environment in order to present a positive public image.

The "Sustainable" Forestry Initiative is Greenwash

Rise of ‘eco-labels’ in markets

Growth in the market for green products has led to greenwash—and to great confusion, but what does ‘green’ really mean? Who decides?

Witness the rise of the ‘eco-label’. More than 300 such labels now promote products or services as having environmental or social benefits. Yet most of these eco-labels are simply cashing in on confusion over what is and what is not green.

Among the worst of these self-endorsement schemes is the one created by the industry devoted to cutting down trees: the ‘Sustainable’ Forestry Initiative (SFI), which markets business-as-usual forest destruction as green.

SFI label: A history of deceptive marketing

The idea for SFI came from the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), the primary trade association for a $175 billion per year wood and paper products industry. AF&PA determined that its members’ products would sell better if they were perceived to be ‘sustainable’.

SFI was spun off as a non-profit in 2001, but little else has changed since its birth as a marketing scheme for AF&PA. Pointing to its non-profit form, SFI’s website, materials, executive speeches, and advertisements all vigorously claim that SFI is independent. Yet, virtually all of SFI’s funding comes from the paper and timber industry. This close financial relationship between SFI and industry led ForestEthics to challenge SFI’s non-profit status with the Internal Revenue Service. SFI is totally dependent on its industry funding. Worse still, this funding arrives in SFI’s accounts as tax-deductible donations.

To this day, with slick ads in publications like The New Yorker and Fortune, SFI uses profits made from forest destruction to convince big brands to promote its program. They’ve convinced JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and American Express to buy into its phony label. Who will be next?

SFI approves environmentally irresponsible forestry practices

Despite its ‘Good for you. Good for our forests.’® logo, SFI certifies logging practices that have a disastrous impact on North American forests. Here is a short list of the practices approved by SFI, which are not good for our forests:

  • Threats to rare wildlife. SFI’s rules do not require any work, within areas they certify as ‘good’, to restore forests that are essential for the survival of rare wildlife.
  • Clearcuts. The average clearcut approved by SFI is the size of 90 football fields. Whether it’s the ‘average’ SFI-approved clearcut, or bigger, the cumulative impacts to watersheds, water quality and soil productivity are often permanent.
  • Widespread toxic chemical use. SFI allows excessive use of toxic chemicals such as pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides that contaminate fresh water.
  • Endangered Forest destruction. SFI has actually promoted its program by saying it does not prohibit logging in old-growth forests, wild areas that do not currently have roads, or other places in which ecological values are especially rich.