Monday, February 07, 2011

Are pulp & paper industry consultants distracting the public?

The Paper Planet welcomes a guest column by Aaron Sanger, Director of U.S. Campaigns at ForestEthics, in response to "Are environmental campaigns misleading the public?"

At the end of last year, pulp and paper industry consultant Phil Riebel wrote a blog post for RISI posing the provocative question “Are environmental campaigns misleading the public?” Riebel’s main point is that paper products should be evaluated across their entire life cycles, and not on only one environmental impact point such as fiber content.

ForestEthics couldn’t agree more: paper products should be assessed across their entire life cycle and environmental impacts should be minimized at each stage of the cycle.

However, ForestEthics’ expertise is focused on a specific part of a paper product’s life cycle: the one that potentially destroys the forests we need for clean air, water and healthy life of all kinds.

And as a matter of fact, ’fiber content’ features prominently as one of Riebel’s “Ten Ways to ‘Green’ Your Paper”.

But here lies the hypocrisy: If you’re going to recommend fiber-assessing certification and eco-labels as part of a plan to ‘green your paper’, you should recommend those that are truly green and not those that are just greenwashing, such as SFI.

If a certification is going to do its job, and give the consumer information that is relevant to the life cycle, it should have all those things that the ‘Sustainable Forestry Initiative’ (SFI) lacks: full and transparent chain of custody information, rigorous standards that aim higher than ’business as usual’, restrictions against clear-cutting, protections against the destruction of old-growth forests, legitimate audits, and adequate caution with regard to practices which may harm rare wildlife.

In other words, SFI’s labels lack credibility. SFI: Certified Greenwash, the report ForestEthics released last November, has all the details.

If you go ahead and recommend SFI despite its lack of these fundamental components, what’s the point? The life cycle of a paper product can’t possibly be green if the ‘fiber content’ isn’t green. And promoting all ‘certification and eco-labels’ as a ‘sign of environmental commitment’ isn’t a way to green paper products; it’s a tip for how to greenwash.

In a sequel post published a few weeks ago, Riebel reiterates his position that “the key certification systems [including SFI] can be effective tools to achieve sustainable forest management.” We disagree, and our report demonstrates that SFI suffers from inherent flaws that prevent it from being an effective tool to protect forests.

Riebel also claims that each certification system’s performance varies depending on where it is applied, and that the differences between certification systems are not “black and white.” We’ve never said the difference between SFI and other systems is ‘black and white’. We are saying that, based on SFI’s overall failure to protect our forests, its claim that it is ‘good for forests’ is greenwash.


Phil Riebel said...

Hi Aaron,

I appreciate the rebutal but still disagree with your assessment of SFI given some of the points mentioned in my blogs, and my personal experience. Although I am now an industry consultant I have spent the last 10 years working with a leading global forest products company that operated FSC, PEFC and SFI certified land in various regions of the globe. I left my post of VP, Corporate Environmental Affairs for UPM-Kymmene in May and draw a lot of my comments from my background and work that we did at UPM.



John Brett said...

Well, it’s a nice one, I have been looking for. Thanks for sharing such informative stuff.Paper industry analysis