Ever wonder exactly what it is that makes a forest “sustainable?” Over the years, we’ve written a bit about the differences between traditional forestry and sustainable forestry, and why Eastern White Pine is such a great choice for mixed forests that help maintain North America’s wildlife diversity. But if you’d like to take a deeper dive into how third party organizations like the Sustainable Forestry Initiative determine which forests are truly sustainably managed, it helps to look at their standards and rules.
The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is an independent, non-profit organization governed by a three-chamber Board of Directors representing environmental, social and economic sectors equally and made up of 15 to 18 external experts. Its standards are revised every five years following an inclusive public review process. SFI program participants make a commitment to sustainable forest management that encompasses a variety of responsibilities including maintaining forest productivity and health and protecting water quality, biological diversity and special sites.
SFI sets standards for forest management and fiber sourcing as well as chain-of-custody practices, all of which are audited by accredited third parties. Once certified, SFI-approved products are marked with an SFI label that assures consumers that a series of stringent requirements have been met to declare the products “sustainable.” That keeps it from becoming a meaningless marketing buzzword, like “natural,” which could be misused to sell products that aren’t as “ethical” as they seem.
There’s a lot involved in the process. The SFI 2015-2019 Forest Management Standard promotes sustainable forestry based on 13 principles, 15 objectives, 37 performance measures and 101 indicators. Applying to any organizations in the United States or Canada that own or have management authority for forestlands, the standards reinforce SFI’s belief that forest landowners have an important stewardship responsibility and a commitment to society. Maintaining viable commercial, family forest and conservation forestland bases and supporting sustainable forestry practices are a big part of those responsibilities.
In addition to protecting the health of forests, water resources, biological diversity and lands that are ecologically, geologically or culturally important, SFI standards require long-term sustainable forest management plans, prompt reforestation, minimized chemical use, soil conservation and much more. All of these principles, standards and objectives aim to help landowners make an income off their forests while keeping them in optimal condition, not just now but for the foreseeable future.
Consumers care about the origins of the products they purchase. Programs like SFI help consumers choose wood products that come from responsibly maintained domestic working forests and fight the kind of deforestation and illegal logging that can harm the reputation of the entire industry.
Want to read the whole SFI guide? You can download it in PDF form – along with a whole lot more info – at the SFIprogram.org website.