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A sketch drawing of a cut down tree and logs piled near it. A green background has the word

Artwork by Simone Williamson

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Calling for an investigation into misleading ‘sustainable’ forestry certification

December 2, 2022

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.

SFI gives the impression that logging operations certified by its standard are ‘sustainable’ while providing no requirement that logging meets any set prescribed sustainability criteria. Canada’s Competition Act makes it illegal for organizations to make false or misleading claims that deceive the public about the products or services they offer.

Ecojustice wants 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.

Feb 2023
a pathway leads through a forest of tall trees and lush greenery
press release

Competition Bureau launches investigation into greenwashing complaint against North America’s largest forest certification scheme

VANCOUVER/UNCEDED xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (MUSQUEAM), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (SQUAMISH) AND səlilwətaɬ (TSLEIL-WAUTUTH) TERRITORIES – An official investigation has been launched into the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) after a complaint filed by Ecojustice on behalf of several leading environmental organizations in November 2022.
Dec 2022
A sketch drawing of a cut down tree and logs piled near it. A green background has the word
press release

Environmental groups fight greenwashing in forestry ‘sustainability’ certification scheme

Groups seek legal remedy from Competition Bureau OTTAWA/TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF THE ALGONQUIN ANISHNAABEG PEOPLE — 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.