Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI inc)
SFI Inc. is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management.
It is a forest certification system, originally launched in 1994 by the American Forest and Paper Association. In 2005, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification recognised SFI as a valid certification system, and since then the two notionally rival organisations have co-operated in North America, currently the only region in which SFI certifies forests, and where SFI is the largest system by area coverage.
SFI is the preferred certification system for large forestry companies, and aims to mainstream certification by taking a non-confrontational approach to business stakeholders.
The SFI programme is governed by a Board of Directors, which has full control of SFI policy and standards.
It has a 'three-chamber' structure, with equal representation for environmental, economic and social interests.
SFI receives the vast bulk of its financial support from programme participants, which is any business or organisation that uses SFI's standards.
Despite having legal independence from industry, SFI continues to have close financial and personnel link with the American Forest and Paper Association.
There are some 250 SFI Programme Participants; some 80% are already certified and the others are yet to be certified against SFI's standards.
Participants are mostly made up of timber and construction companies, with a number of civil society organisations also on the list.
No prominent UK-based or UK-facing furniture retailers were visible, and this is likely due to SFI's current focus on North America.
SFI updates its standards every 5 years.
A major change to the structure of the 2015-2019 Standards and Rules was to establish three stand-alone standards, for forest management, fiber sourcing and chain-of-custody.
No matter where users sit in the supply chain, SFI has a relevant standard to support responsible forestry. The SFI's standard-making process is rather opaque and undemocratic (in comparison to, say, the Forest Stewardship Council), but both initiatives rely on third-party auditors.
Despite receiving support from some of America's 'big greens', SFI has received vociferous criticism from some quarters.
The most high-profile opposition comes from ForestEthics, who are campaigning to prevent SFI certification from being recognised as a sustainable wood option in the US Green Building Council's LEED Green Building Standards.
ForestEthics argue that SFI is a marketing tool for selling environmentally harmful products by falsely describing them as 'green'”. A successful campaign led by ForestEthics has persuaded 24 companies to forego SFI-certified paper in favour of the FSC.
Another key critic of SFI is Sierra Club, which in 2009 filed a complaint against SFI-certified timber company Weyerhaeuser for conducting irresponsible logging on extremely steep and unstable slopes – actions that resulted in massive landslides and extensive damage to public and private property.
SFI carries a consumer-facing label.
There are seven labels in total, distinguishing between products with a certain percentage of certified material, and those that are merely produced by a certified company and therefore may not necessarily contain certified content.
SFI publishes summaries of forest audits but not detailed breakdowns of (non-)compliance against individual standards, or the findings from stakeholder interviews.