Canadian environmental groups have levelled another greenwashing complaint — this time at the largest certification scheme for sustainable forestry in North America.
The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certifies 115 million hectares of forest within Canada’s borders for companies.
In a complaint filed to Competition Bureau Canada, environmental groups allege the SFI’s claims of sustainability are “false and misleading” because it has “no rules requiring that logging meet prescribed sustainability criteria nor any on-the-ground assessment to confirm sustainability.”
“The misrepresentations made by the SFI have contributed and continue to contribute to unsustainable logging globally and in Canada on an immense scale,” according to the complaint filed Dec. 1 by Ecojustice.
The environmental law charity filed the complaint on behalf of eight environmental organizations including Greenpeace Canada, Wildlands League, David Suzuki Foundation and Ecology Action Centre. The bureau has yet to decide whether to open an inquiry.
“We welcome any scrutiny into our program and are positioned well to address any issues,” SFI’s senior vice-president of customer affairs, Jason Metnick, said in an email to Canada’s National Observer.
“At the heart of this inquiry is whether SFI’s standards require outcomes-based impact to make sustainability statements. The answer is absolutely yes,” Metnick’s statement reads.
The complaint says otherwise. When people go to a hardware store and see wood products like lumber with the SFI’s leaf-like certification symbol, it implies the wood was logged in a sustainable manner that conserves the ecological balance of a forest by trying not to deplete it, said Devon Page, executive director of Ecojustice. However, logging companies are not tested to ensure the outcome of their operations is sustainable in order to get that symbol — SFI certifies a process, not the actual outcome, he said.
In response, Metnick pointed to SFI’s annual audits, which are conducted by third-party certification bodies.
SFI certification is a “management systems-based standard,” meaning companies must follow their processes to some extent to be certified, according to the complaint. To ensure sustainable forestry is the outcome of those processes, you need a “performance-based standard,” which requires companies to achieve results in order to get the sustainable forestry stamp of approval, it reads.
Some forests also simply aren't renewable, said Page, pointing to 300-year-old forests whose ecosystems allow for species at risk to survive — like the marbled murrelet, a small north Pacific seabird that nests in the tops of old-growth trees. Canada’s quickly declining forests are largely logged to burn for fuel or to create short-lived paper products and are now adding more planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than they remove, according to analysis by Canada’s National Observer columnist Barry Saxifrage.
B.C. Premier David Eby recently warned “short-term thinking” on land management has “exhausted” forests. There is an "inescapable recognition … that change is needed to ensure our forest industry is sustainable," Eby wrote in the mandate letter for new Forests Minister Bruce Ralston.
The BC NDP is lagging on commitments it made to address logging of the province’s old-growth forests more than two years ago, environmental groups say.
“When you log the trees, you lose the species, you lose the ecosystem, it's lost,” said Page. “What we're watching is a lack of sustainable logging generally and massive over-logging in Canada, while concurrently, industry is championing this logo that said it was sustainable.”
Earlier this month, a leaked letter from Canada’s ambassador to the European Union, Ailish Campbell, revealed Canada’s attempts to water down proposed EU forestry trade regulations that would eliminate unsustainably sourced wood products from the market, The Guardian reported.
Page expects the Competition Bureau to decide in the next couple months whether it will open an inquiry into Ecojustice’s complaint. The bureau recently opened inquiries into the Canadian Gas Association and RBC for greenwashing allegations. In January, the bureau ordered Keurig Canada to pay $3 million for misleading consumers about the recyclability of its single-use coffee pods. As part of the settlement, Keurig Canada also had to change its recyclable claims and the packaging of its K-Cup pods.
— With files from The Canadian Press