They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will let this photograph do the talking:
This photo shows the difference between a forest managed under the independent third-party Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification program and one managed under the industry-backed Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). The difference is as clear as a smog-free day and shocking.
A common question is “What kind of wood should I buy?” It turns out that there are no good or bad species – only good and bad forestry. Let’s take a moment to examine FSC and SFI with the goal of getting to the green bottom of this burning issue.
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
Here are the principles of FSC-certified forests:
- Never harvests more than what grows back
- Protects biodiversity and endangered species
- Saves rare ancient trees
- Guards local streams
- Supports the local people
- Uses narrow skidding trails so as not to disrupt the rest of the forest
- Prohibits replacement by tree plantations
- Bans toxic chemicals
- Bans genetically modified trees (no GMO)
In the first year under FSC, you map and inventory all of the trees and assess the biology and the streams. Then you make a sustainable plan that will do the least harm and mimic the natural life and death cycle of the forest. Trees do fall down naturally which we see while hiking!
Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)
Here is what is allowed under the industry's SFI standard:
- Allows large clearcuts
- Allows logging close to rivers and streams that harms water supplies
- Allows use of toxic pesticides
- Allows conversion of old-growth forests to tree plantations
- Allows use of genetically modified trees
Who is Behind SFI: The American Forest & Paper Association co-created SFI to market US timber business-as-usual logging practices as being sustainable. It is greenwashing and is funded and governed by the largest pulp and paper companies including:
- International Paper (no. 1 largest wood processor in the world)
- Georgia-Pacific Corporation (no 2)
- Weyerhaeuser (no. 3)
- Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation (no. 5)
Just saying that a company is planting “a million” trees is not the same as a well-managed sustainable forest. Clearcutting an old-growth forest to create a plantation of monoculture trees with pesticides is a disaster and increasingly commonplace in Brazil and Indonesia. This isn’t a forest. This is a crop. As a result, the water wells for the local people dry up, the animals die, and the natural forest is lost forever. On a positive note, there are steps we can take not to be complicit in this debauchery.
What’s up with Deforestation?
After power plants, deforestation is the second leading cause of global warming in the world. Wood is a wonderful resource if managed sustainably. It is naturally recyclable, biodegradable, non-toxic, easy to use, and relatively fast growing. Forests are also essential to the inner workings of our planet. Trees create oxygen, store carbon, store water, and produce vital rain clouds. At this moment, one football field worth of forest is being cleared per minute in the tropics. This is unsustainable and we have the power to quell it through our buying power.
50% of the wood imported into the US comes from illegal logging. 80% of South American and African hardwood and 90% of Asian hardwood sold in the US is illegally logged. Indonesia is the worst.
Guide to Good Green Wood
1. Ask where the wood comes from. Ask for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) wood. Look for the FSC seal on the box and the invoice. Check.
2. Buy reclaimed or salvaged wood. Antiques are also the ultimate in eco-chic.
3. Buy recycled paper with a high % of post-consumer content. For high-quality recycled copy and printing paper, Staples is great choice. FedEx Kinkos is also supporting FSC. OfficeMax is still lagging and selling paper from clearcut forests.
4. Bring your own bag to the grocery store or reuse the paper bags over and over until they shred. The paper bags at Safeway and Lucky’s are made by Weyerhaeuser under SFI. Help.
5. Bamboo is a rapidly-growing grass and a solid option for furniture.
6. Avoid the SFI label
- Restoration Timber
- Berkeley Mills
- The Wooden Duck
- Mi Workshop
- Kenneth Cobonpue
- Cisco Brothers Basal Living
- Q Collection and Q Collection Junior
- Bamboo Cabinets
- Modern Bamboo
- Heritage Salvage
- Tropical Salvage
See ForestEthics, Rainforest Action Network, and the Environmental Investigation Agency for more information about companies that are taking their paper and wood policies seriously, and those that aren't. ForestEthics has filed a complaint against SFI for its unethical wood standards and nonprofit status with the FTC and the IRS.
No SFI in LEED Let's Hope: I am worried because the industry is currently lobbying the US Green Building Council heavily in all 50 states to get SFI to qualify for points under the popular LEED green building standards. This would be a catastrophe for the forests and the planet. So far the USGBC has held strong but how much lobbying can an organization take? We need to support LEED holding firm and applaud the USGBC for wanting to promote green building standards that are truly sustainable and transformational.
The best news of all is that there are now more than 100 million hectors of forest land that is certified under FSC. The pull from the marketplace (you) for sustainable wood is working. Every time we buy FSC, reclaimed, or recycled, we are sending a positive message. www.fsc.org
Update: Thank you for the wonderful feedback. A few people have commented that FSC is not perfect but is the best we have right now for a sustainable forestry standard. I think this is an important point. Like with industrial organics, the pressure to compromise environmental standards always increases with volume. There are reports on FSC Watch that some FSC forests have been slipping. It is critical to keep a green eye on this because FSC is our principle hope right now for preserving true forests into perpetuity. Let's encourage FSC to be the best they can be. If FSC had levels like Silver, Gold and Platinum, then there would not be a watering-down of the standard to a common demoninator; there would be a higher level of integrity to aspire to. Let's also continue using recycled paper and developing tree-free sources like bamboo, rattan, hemp, bagasse, and kenaf to give the forests breathing room. They are the lungs of our planet.
In some recent good news as of May 2013, over 20 companies have now agreed to phase out SFI paper including HP, AT&T, Office Depot, and Southwest Airlines thanks to the great work of ForestEthics and their SFI campaign.