The world’s forests are in trouble. For decades, forested areas have been shrinking at rates never before seen in human history. This destruction is largely due to agriculture, logging, mining, increased fires, and other human activity.
Forest certifications are a newer tool in the fight against deforestation, aiming to assure that forest companies are operating sustainably. Companies use these ‘eco-labels’ to communicate their commitment to environmental and social responsibility, helping eco-conscious consumers choose products that come from well-managed forests.
While forestry certification can be a useful tool to help protect nature, some certifications are not all they claim to be. Some certifications are overseen by the forestry industry. This can pose a conflict of interest where companies pull profits from labeling products as ‘sustainable’ while using vague criteria and little to no oversight and enforcement provisions.
The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is one such industry-led certification system. SFI was created by the logging industry and has grown to become North America’s largest forest certification system. SFI markets logging operations certified to its standard as ‘sustainable.’ The trouble is, SFI has no rules that require the logging operations it certifies to meet any set sustainability criteria, nor does the certification require any on-the-ground assessment. The certification claims to protect forests while allowing activities like clearcutting, the spraying of toxic chemicals, and the logging of old-growth forests. SFI has long faced criticism from environmental and community groups in both Canada and the United States.
The Competition Bureau is Canada’s federal law enforcement agency responsible for protecting consumers in Canada from companies making misleading and false statements. In November 2022, Ecojustice filed a complaint with the Bureau on behalf of Greenpeace Canada, David Suzuki Foundation, Alberta Wilderness Association, Wilderness Committee, Nature Nova Scotia, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, and Jay Malcolm, a forestry professor from the University of Toronto. The groups say that SFI’s ‘sustainability’ claims amount to greenwashing and are asking the Bureau to step in to protect forests and consumers by conducting an investigation.