Groups seek legal remedy from Competition Bureau
Traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg people/Ottawa – Ahead of the world’s biggest nature conference in a decade, eight leading environmental organizations from across Canada have filed a complaint with the Competition Bureau requesting it conduct an inquiry into false and misleading ‘sustainability’ claims made by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) about its sustainable forestry certification scheme.
SFI is North America’s largest forest certification system and is backed by the logging industry. SFI gives the impression that logging operations certified to its standard are ‘sustainable’ while having no rules requiring that logging meet prescribed sustainability criteria nor any on-the-ground assessment to confirm sustainability. SFI has long faced criticism from environmental and community groups in both Canada and the United States.
Ecojustice filed the complaint with the Competition Bureau on behalf of Greenpeace Canada, Wildlands League, David Suzuki Foundation, Alberta Wilderness Association, Wilderness Committee, Ecology Action Centre, Nature Nova Scotia, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, and a forestry professor from the University of Toronto.
Considered in the context of an internationally accepted definition of sustainable forest management, the groups say SFI is misrepresenting the standards of its certification system, and that this has contributed and will continue to contribute to unsustainable logging globally and in Canada on an immense scale. SFI’s certification allows clearcutting, spraying of toxic chemicals, and logging of endangered forests (including old growth forests and caribou habitat).
Devon Page, executive director, Ecojustice said:
“The Sustainable Forestry Initiative’s standard is a greenwashed certification that misleads consumers and fails to protect forests and the environment. This deception needs to stop immediately.
“Forest certification could be a useful tool to help consumers seek out and buy products from well-managed forests. However, industry-led certifications such as the SFI standard have been corrupted into a self-interested tool to greenwash irresponsible forestry practices.”
Shane Moffatt, Head of Nature and Food Campaign, Greenpeace Canada said:
“SFI’s greenwash of unsustainable logging is holding back urgent government action. The reality is that forests right across Canada are in crisis and no amount of certification can paper over that. Instead, we need stronger laws to protect old growth forests and threatened wildlife from multinational logging companies. And much more support for Indigenous Peoples rights on their lands.”
Raymond Plourde, Senior Wilderness Coordinator, Ecology Action Centre said:
“Forestry companies under the SFI certification standard can clearcut natural mixed-species forests, spray glyphosate to suppress natural re-growth and replace them with softwood plantations, all while claiming to be ‘green’ to the marketplace. It’s classic industry greenwashing and it needs to stop.”
Rachel Plotkin, Boreal Project Manager, David Suzuki said:
“Consumers are sick and tired of meaningless greenwash. When they buy a product on the basis of it being produced sustainably, they deserve to be able to believe that this claim is backed up by a credible standard. We are counting on the Competition Bureau to protect consumers and to restore their trust.”
Torrance Coste, National Campaign Director, Wilderness Committee said:
“Walking through a clearcut filled with the stumps of thousand-year-old trees is always awful, but knowing the destruction of these irreplaceable ecosystems is being marketed as sustainable is particularly hard to stomach. Companies should not be permitted to log in at-risk old-growth forests, and the industry should not be allowed to brand this logging as sustainable.”
Jay Malcolm, retired forestry professor, University of Toronto said:
“Instead of requiring the protection of endangered species, like caribou, SFI only requires that companies have a program in place that is related to that issue, with no regard to how that species is actually doing — they are certifying intentions, instead of outcomes.
“The logging industry is using its own certification system to pass off wood products as carbon-neutral and sustainable. But if you look into the details of the standard, there’s nothing backing those claims up.”
Devon Earl, Conservation Specialist, Alberta Wilderness Association said:
“SFI allows the certified destruction of habitat for species-at-risk and primary forests that are vital for supporting biodiversity. This greenwashing allows the government to turn a blind eye to the harmful impacts of forest mismanagement.”
Bob Bancroft, President, Nature Nova Scotia said:
“As a biologist working with pulp companies like Northern Pulp for decades, even pristine forests were clear-cut. It was the only harvest method they used. Their SFI certification is a farce.”
Janet Sumner, Executive Director, Wildlands League said:
“The industry regularly points to high rates of certification as proof they are sustainable, but this report shows that there is nothing really backing these claims of sustainability.
“Caribou ranges are collapsing and companies continue to log into new intact carbon rich areas. Scars that won’t come back by 2050.”
More information about the Sustainable Forestry Initiative
SFI is the largest single certification system in North America, having ‘certified’ more than 150 million hectares of forest in North America alone, 115 million hectares of which, or 76 per cent, is in Canada.
As of 2021, Canada has a whopping 36 per cent of the world’s total ‘certified’ forest area, amounting to an area the size of France, Spain, Germany and the UK combined. SFI is by far the largest culprit, having ‘certified’ twice the amount of forested area as the next two largest certifying bodies combined.
SFI’s description gives the false impression that logging done under the SFI Standard is ‘sustainable’ or ‘certified sustainable’ and achieves ‘sustainable forest management.’
These misleading representations assure the public that wood products sourced from SFI-certified logging operations are preferable because the logging is ‘sustainable.’ This is false because the standard does not require logging to meet any set criteria or definition of sustainability.
The issue with industry-led sustainability certifications
Brands use eco-labels to communicate their commitment to environmental and social responsibility. A growing green marketplace means they also profit from them.
Concern for the decreasing quantity and quality of the world’s forests has fueled a rapid evolution in international forestry policy in recent decades. Forest certifications are a newer tool intended to give consumers the ability to differentiate between forest products based on how they were produced, allowing eco-conscious consumers to seek out and buy socially and environmentally responsible products.
Industry-led certification systems inherently pose a conflict of interest since industry actors benefit financially from using ‘sustainable’ branding to drive the sale of wood products.
The Canadian logging industry (enabled by the government) has used forestry certifications to position Canada as a world leader in sustainable forestry and to deflect criticism of unsustainable forest practices stemming from various high-profile forest conflicts including (but not limited to) in Clayoquot Sound.
What an inquiry by the Competition Bureau could accomplish
The Competition Act makes it illegal for organizations to make false or misleading claims that deceive the public about the products or services they offer. The groups behind the complaint want the Competition Bureau to perform an inquiry and, if the Bureau finds that SFI has misled the public, require the SFI to:
- Remove all ‘sustainability’ claims from its public communications about the SFI Standard, and from the name of the program itself;
- Publicly retract its sustainability claims; and,
- Pay a ten million dollar fine directed towards conservation projects.
A similar complaint surrounding the Canadian Standards Association’s (CSA) forestry certification standard is also pending investigation from the Competition Bureau.
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