Can you tell the difference between sustainable lumber and clear cut lumber?

(numstead, via Flickr)

I didn't think so.

A coalition of international environmental groups established the "Forest Stewardship Council" (FSC) in 1993 to help you tell the difference. Even though they're criticized as not tough enough, the FSC's third-party certification system has become the gold standard for sustainable forest products.

Following the old adage, "if you can't beat them, join them," the American Forest & Paper Association created its own certification system for labeling sustainably managed forests, requiring all members to 'self-certify' that they comply with their "Sustainable Forestry Initiative" (SFI) requirements. (SFI became an independent non-profit in 2007.) Buoyed by the support of behemoth members such as Weyerhaeuser the SFI has grown rapidly, with SFI operations now covering approximately 90% of the industrial forestland in the US.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network described the SFI efforts as "a new green coat of paint over the same tired practices" and environmental groups have lined up to fight the SFI certification program producing a sobering photo gallery of SFI Certified Logging.

The battle is heating up. The U.S. Green Building Council is now poised to recognize SFI certification in their LEED Rating System. Earlier this month, ForestEthics filed administrative complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the IRS claiming that SFI's "phony 'green' certification label misleads consumers and cheats taxpayers." A certification system birthed by the industry it purports to regulate seems a bit like the fox guarding the henhouse.

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