You would think SFI could come up with a strong and compelling response to ForestEthics’ March 28 announcement that seven national brands (some Fortune 500) had committed to distancing themselves from the SFI logo and/or embracing products bearing the FSC mark.
But you would be wrong.
SFI’s response was as predictable as it was uninspiring:
ForestEthics continues to peddle pulp fiction about the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, repeating the same old inaccurate and misleading information. With several credible forest certification standards in the marketplace, there are many paths to the same goals. While we respect businesses making choices, the real damage from ForestEthics’ campaign is the uneven playing field that it creates for well-managed domestic forest practices and products. ForestEthics pushes organizations to buy FSC only, but the vast majority of FSC’s supply is offshore. Global trade in forest products is fine, but domestic products managed to high standards shouldn’t be shut out due to misinformation campaigns and pressure tactics. That can hurt our forest communities and cost jobs.
The “pulp fiction” line – that’s kinda cute.
But the jingoistic, “oh poor me” arguments about activism creating of an “uneven playing field” for domestic forest products and hurting forest communities and jobs is just nonsense. Even worse, it’s just preaching to the choir and isn’t going to sway hearts and minds outside of the forest products industry.
Wood-and-paper is an international business. There are more non-FSC wood and paper products coming in to domestic markets from offshore than those that bear the check-and-tree logo. The environmental provenance of these imports varies greatly. But the fact that they’re here in North America says that somebody is buying these products that compete with domestically made goods – and, to use the SFI argument, hurting our forest communities and jobs. Guess a few import products with FSC labels are worse than boatloads of them without.
The “saving jobs and communities” argument may play well in DC, and in the halls of state legislatures, but it is far less effective on the genpop, which is almost innately in love with forests, and (as studies have shown) think the forest industry is less trustworthy about forest issues than even the government.
SFI would do well to remember the “Forest Archetype” studies conducted for the Timber Association of California a decade or so ago, and align its messaging with what forest-revering ordinary people want to hear – that its certification program ensures that the forest is nurtured and well cared for.
Despite the claims of detractors (and, perhaps because of them, the SFI program has evolved considerably from its early, seemingly slap-dashed-together-by-the-forest-industry roots. That’s good news. And SFI has probably dozens, if not hundreds, of good stories to tell about how adherence to its standards of practice is nurturing our forests.
So let’s hear them.
This article first appeared in RISI Environmental Matters on 3/23/2011, and is posted here with permission.
“You deserve a break today.” Well, if you happen to manage a certified pulp forest, you just caught one. Maybe.
Launched on March 9, 2011 to coincide with the release of its 2010 Sustainability Report, McDonald’s Corporation’s new Sustainable Land Management Commitment (SLMC) is a plan that will help the company ensure that all of the agricultural products it uses worldwide come from legal and sustainably managed land sources. The commitment’s main emphasis is on the usual suspects within the food-supply chain – beef, poultry, coffee, and palm oil (our fishy friends are oddly absent from this policy, but, hey, this is a “sustainable land management” commitment). The SLMC also addresses McDonald’s global sourcing of packaging, an area in which the focus is squarely on the origin of wood fiber.
FSC – best for meeting standards?
According to the McDonald’s SLMC, the company will not knowingly purchase from suppliers that source from illegal or unacceptable sources, and it will give preference to wood fiber from sources that have obtained credible, third-party certification.
McDonald’s cites Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification as the program that, at present, provides the best assurance of meeting its standards. This should come as no shock to anyone, as the SLMC was developed by McDonald’s in collaboration with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the NGO that is is, arguably, the biggest global advocate for the FSC and its Principles & Criteria for Forest Stewardship.
But since it is unlikely that the fast-casual restaurant chain will find enough FSC fiber to meet its global packaging needs, McDonald’s has adopted the broad definition of “credible third-party certification” that has become de rigueur among large corporations.
According to its website, McDonald’s also recognizes, by name, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), and Cerflor, the Brazilian national forest certification scheme. (The CSA, Cerflor and SFI programs all are endorsed by PEFC, so the listing rather duplicative.)
Conspicuous by its absence from this list is Lembaga Ekolabel Indonesia (LEI), the “Indonesian Eco-Label Institute,” which is not, as yet, endorsed by PEFC, but which (in a very “strange bedfellows” arrangement) is about halfway through an 18-month engagement with FSC to explore of areas of compatibility and other possible collaboration, particularly in the area of community-based forestry.
Pulp manufacturers everywhere are likely to welcome McDonald’s definition of “legal” wood fiber as coming from timber “harvested, transported, processed, bought and sold in compliance with national and sub-national laws.” But it is McDonald’s definition of “acceptable” categories of wood fiber that will have some pulp producers cheering and others shaking in their boots.
For McDonald’s, acceptable fiber sources conform with international trade sanctions, do not contain species listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and are not sourced from areas included in an official planning process for designation as “protected.” So far, so good.
But the fourth component of the “acceptable” definition (and, in actuality, the one listed first) could be a real stumbling block for pulp producers around the world, including those in the US.
McDonald’s has whole-heartedly embraced the FSC’s position (some would say an arbitrary position or, at best, an ideological one) that acceptable fiber is “not obtained from land that has been converted to plantation or other use after 1994.” Whether or not that land is presently managed sustainably according to a credible, third-party program, and whether or not the present owner was the entity that converted the natural forest to plantation use, the wood fiber from that plantation is now unacceptable to McDonald’s.
There is no place (well, perhaps other than in Indonesia) that this exclusion could resonate more loudly than in the US Mid-Atlantic region, where major pulp producers and packaging suppliers to the fast-casual food industry rely on fiber that is grown, at least in part, on third-party-certified plantations that have been converted – you guessed it – after 1994. The exclusion is a point not lost on Dogwood Alliance, the NGO that has been campaigning for the better part of a year against Yum! Brands’ KFC and its packaging supplier, International Paper. Dogwood was quick to issue a press release praising McDonald’s for its new policy and condemning KFC, operators of industrial pulp plantations in the US Mid-Atlantic and – perhaps just because they had the bully pulpit – SFI, the certification brand-of-choice for the US forest products industry.
Will McDonald’s Sustainable Land Management Commitment be a game-changer for the pulp industry? That depends on how fast, how deeply, and how uniformly the mega-corporation implements its new tenets. Certainly it gives them a policy-based “ten-foot-pole” with which to distance themselves from “unacceptable” fiber sources that could tarnish the McDonald’s brand. That is a move we can expect – other multi-nationals have done the same in recent months.
But Just how fast will McDonald’s move to eliminate fiber originating from credible third-party SFI or PEFC-certified plantations converted after 1994? Which tenet of the acceptability definition is the trump card? It’s hard to say. Perhaps the company will issue one of those “what we really said was” type of announcements designed to clear the air once and for all.
I hope so, because, without such a document, McDonald’s Sustainable Land Management Commitment – at least the packaging component of it – seems internally contradictory and promises to be a real headache for well-meaning “good actor” suppliers who want to stay in the game of selling to Mickey D’s.
SLMC. I’m just not lovin’ it yet.
Referenced in error by McDonald’s as “Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification”
Referenced in error by McDonald’s as “CSA International,” a product-testing and certification organization which, like CSA, is part of an entity called the “CSA Group.”
Referenced in error by McDonald’s as “International Convention on Trade in Endangered Species”
Hey all you printers – and by all you printers, I mean just all you ink-on-paper printers. (Sign shops, silk screeners, you folks that print plastic packaging, and all the rest, just go grab a refreshing beverage or something while I rant – there’s nothing in this new “green” certification for you.)
So here’s the question: How much would YOU pay to use a trumped-up eco-label that purports to give you “green” bona fides for doing nothing more than you are probably already doing?
Well, if you buy what the Environmentally Friendly Printing Association (EFPA) is peddling, you should expect to pay up to $3000 a year for that little indulgence (plus an initiation fee of up to $2,000), depending on your sales volume, of course.
And not only do you get to use a lightweight, unknown, non-third-party-verified eco-label that is essentially meaningless in the marketplace, you get promises of hob-knobbing with other like-minded printers, discounts on promotional items – mugs and hats, etc., discounts for using EFPA member suppliers and service providers, a snazzy wall plaque, and other yet-to-materialize benefits of joining a nascent printing trade association. (We need another printing trade association like we need another version of PageMaker – do they still make that?)
But wait… there’s more! For your ‘modest’ fees of up to $5,000 the first year, and your pledge to 1) use a minimal 10% PCW recycled paper; 2) use water-based, soy-based or other vegetable-oil-based inks; and 3) sort and recycle all the paper used in the printing process, you also get… No Chain of Custody, No On Site Audit, No Third-Party Verification, No Stakeholder Consensus about the Certification Criteria and, I daresay, No Credibility with NGOs or anyone even remotely aware of the environmental issues associated with printing!
EFPA’s certification does nothing more than slap a very-pale-green sticker on some basic practices that printers are already doing. It doesn’t address big issues like energy consumption and greenhouse gasses related with the source of energy. It doesn’t address VOCs from coatings and solvents. It doesn’t address water consumption or discharge. It doesn’t address any solid waste issues other than the recycling of printing paper. And it doesn’t call for any type of continuous improvement. And it doesn’t apply to anybody but ink-on-paper folks. (Maybe the rest of the graphics communications industry should consider itself lucky.)
The way I see it, EFPA’s “green” certification is a cynical slap in the face to every printing facility and graphic communications supply company that has worked hard to raise the bar of its own sustainability performance, and to anyone who has put his or her blood, sweat, and tears into developing a credible certification standard.
Who needs it?
A couple of similarly themed tidbits crossed my desk during the past week.
First were the considerable rumblings in the enviro-blogs over claims made by a certain southeast Asian pulp and paper company that its paper was “close to carbon neutral). A couple of ENGOs (RAN and JATAN) are claiming that the reported footprint from Asia Pulp & Paper’s Carbon Footprint Assessment (conducted in 2006) is from 550 to 700 lower than the actual figures. (See Redd-monitor.org for details. You can make up your own mind on the veracity of any of these organization’s claims.)
Then, while ransacking my Twitter feed (Twitter is, by the way, God’s way of telling you that you have too much time on your hands), I came across some Tweets from Spicers Paper Australia, in which they referenced themselves (or their paper offerings) as the “Carbon Neutral Gang.” A visit to their website eventually led me to some language and logos claiming that certain of their paper offerings were – you guessed it – certified “carbon neutral” by the Carbon Reduction Institute and/or the Department of Climate Change & Energy Efficiency’s National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS), an Australian Government Initiative.
Now, all of this set off my now-ancient and well-honed internal crap detector (see this essay from 1969 by Neil Postman – it certainly influenced me) like the light bar on the roof of a South Carolina State Trooper-mobile. And here’s why.
Unless one is absolutely sure about the amount of carbon (expressed as CO2e – the e is for “equivalent”) in a given amount of finished product, one cannot completely “neutralize” that carbon through the purchase of offsets (which is how the Carbon Reduction Institute and other similar organizations address the mitigation of carbon that cannot otherwise be eliminated.)
The tricky part is that one must set parameters – called “boundaries” – on the carbon footprint assessment in order to make it manageable. In the case of the Australian paper merchant’s offerings, the boundaries may have been set to only include the manufacturing processes in the assessment of the carbon footprint. The CO2e from such an assessment would be quite different than that resulting from an assessment that took the lifecycle of the fiber source into account, or one that encompasses, say, the shipping of the product from an overseas mill to the domestic warehouse and then to the customer’s loading dock.
In the case of the RAN & JATAN v. APP carbon footprint dispute, part of the controversy stems from whether or not the carbon impact of the conversion of natural forests to plantations was included in the assessment. Here, too, the agreed-upon boundaries greatly influence the final CO2e/tonne figure.
Put another way, saying “we’re carbon neutral” (or we’re very close to carbon neutral) is simply crap. And it is made even more crappilicious through the omission of any mention of the boundaries that help define the claim of carbon neutrality. If only the carbon footprint of the manufacturing processes have been neutralized through the purchase of offsets, then say so.
Better still. Don’t say anything at all. Why not let carbon footprint assessments serve as a benchmarking tool for process improvements over time, and keep them out the world of marketing and promotional claims altogether?
In a presentation at Graph Expo 2010, I spoke about how greenwashing tends to fall into three categories: intentional, accidental, and just plain asinine. Fully aware that it may be a subset of both the first and third of these categories, I’d like to posit one more– “disingenuous.” Of the four, this is the most insidious, the most reckless, and the most dangerous.
Take, for example, the case of the paper merchant that touts its chain-of-custody certification, but has no certified paper to sell. The green claim is a true one, as far as it goes, but it is hollow and misleading. There is nothing “green” about a C-o-C certification. It only documents that a company has the ability to track a certified product as it moves through a given facility. Without certified product to sell, the company’s “we are XYZ-certified” boast merely seeks to make the firm appear greener than it is.
One could argue that the claim is merely premature – that the company fully intends to have certified product to sell in the future. But why make the claim now, when it is an empty boast? And why make it such a prominent part of the company’s promotion?
The answer is as obvious as a landscape-scale clearcut – it is because this company wants to use the lure of “green certification” to attract customers to products that, on their own, are lacking a green pedigree.
It’s time we stopped putting up with such shenanigans.
And speaking of disingenuity (although this has nothing to do with greenwashing), there is the case of Andrew Langer and his “Consumers Alliance for Global Prosperity.”
A project of the Institute for Liberty (which Langer directs), CAGP is, in my humble opinion, not at all about consumers – unless you count those that buy large quantities of certain high-quality, sheet-fed coated printing papers. (I’ve asked around. None of my neighbors buy that sort of thing.) Rather CAGP is all about defending big business — specifically one very big business that is losing market share and customers because those customers do not want to be affiliated with a company whose forest-conversion practices (though, arguably, legal by the standards of the Indonesian government) are deemed unacceptable by a broad range of ENGOs and other civil-society actors.
CAGP has concocted a theory that US paper companies, trade unions, environmental groups, and big box office supply retailers have joined in a secret pact to block imports of inexpensive paper from Indonesia and China. (This theory leaves out, for the moment, the US Congress which, by amending the Lacey Act to include wood and paper, may also be in on the cloak-and-dagger antics. Sheesh.) Langer has written on multiple occasions about his concern that these actions by the “Empires of Collusion” (I’m not kidding, that’s what he calls them) will drive up the cost of school notebooks and children’s books.
Now unless I missed something, school notebooks and kids’ books are not printed on the kind of high-end, sheet-fed coated paper that has been the focus of a trade action filed by three US paper companies, some environmental groups, and the steelworkers union – the same folks that Langer and his project claim are the “Empires of Collusion.” So dragging kids and the financial interests of their parents into what appears to be a last-ditch attempt to sway opinion in advance of an International Trade Commission decision about another type of paper entirely seems, at best, disingenuous.
One has to ask, “why would Mr. Langer care”? And, “why now”? Where was he during all the months that this trade action was pending, and when preliminary rulings were being made? And where was he during the past five or so years when the company he so vociferously champions was in the cross-hairs of environmental groups from all over the world. Is his sudden enlightenment due to some kind of “road to Damascus” epiphany, or merely due to some influx of cash from a never-to-be-disclosed source? That he is engaged now seems all too coincidental, and his assertion to me in a phone call that his interest was piqued because it was, “back to school season” just rings hollow. But that is the smoke that is being blown.
That said, this may all be just a tempest in a teapot. On October 22, the International Trade Commission, by a unanimous vote, determined that “U.S. industry is threatened with material injury by reason of imports of certain coated paper suitable for high-quality print graphics using sheet-fed presses from China and Indonesia that the U.S. Department of Commerce (Commerce) has determined are subsidized and sold in the United States at less than fair value.” Which means that Commerce will “issue antidumping and countervailing duty orders on imports of these products from China and Indonesia.”
Now perhaps CAGP and Mr. Langer can give it a rest.