For years, conservation organizations have insisted that the only forest certification scheme that delivers socially and environmentally responsible forest practices is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). While not perfect, FSC has a commitment to protecting workers' and indigenous rights, as well as high conservation values, such as endangered species.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) has always claimed to deliver similar outcomes as FSC, and has even said that the two systems are as similar as Coke and Pepsi. However, social and environmental groups have pointed out that SFI doesn't require companies to respect aboriginal rights or to adequately protect high conservation values.

A new report, published by ForestEthics, provides data that confirms that the Coke-Pepsi analogy is nowhere close to the truth.  The report, Peeling Back the Eco-Labels, provides a quantitative analysis of how the two forest certification systems operate. The most striking findings include:

  • SFI rarely includes biologists and First Nations experts on its audit teams, whereas FSC does include them. This means that the needs of wildlife are taken into consideration, as well as the knowledge and interests of aboriginal communities, into FSC forestry.

  • FSC audit teams are 76% larger than SFI teams, and FSC auditors spend three times more time on audits (average of 29 days) than do SFI auditors, which shows FSC is a more thorough system when it comes to checking if forest management are meeting its requirements.

  • Components of almost all FSC reports are peer-reviewed by at least one external expert. None of SFI reports are peer reviewed, which means they do not have the approval of independent experts.

  • FSC audits found 4 times as many major non-conformances as SFI audits, which suggests a that FSC has more rigorous standards.

Ever since SFI was first established as an industry-led alternative to FSC, we've seen vastly inferior results in the forest, as well as fewer opportunities for consultation. Peeling Back the Eco-Labels shows us why SFI isn't able to provide the benefits that FSC does. 

FSC enjoys the support of a broad array of stakeholders, such as environmental groups, labour organizations, aboriginal organizations, retailers and logging companies. New developments within FSC, such as the development of new national standard in Canada with a new species at risk indicator, new direction to protect Intact Forest Landscapes across the globe, and a commitment to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, show that FSC continues to be the only credible forest certification system.

Catharine Grant is a Forest Campaigner at Greenpeace Canada.