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Misleading Labels and Greenwashing: What’s A Consumer to Do?

External Reference/Copyright
Issue date: 
May 17, 2012
Publisher Name: 
Lily Primeaux
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Woe is the eco-conscious consumer. Just when they think they’re buying green, something screws it all up. The latest group allegedly mucking things up is the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which is losing corporate sponsors amid allegations of “green-washing.”

First, some background. SFI officially started as a division of the the industry group American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA). Although it officially broke away and turned non-profit in 2001, the now-separate organizations remain closely associated. SFI continues to be funded by AF&PA in the form of tax-deductible donations, according to a new report by the watchdog group (and, in a sense, competitors of SFI) ForestEthics. They allege that those timber industry funds given to SFI “support advertising and brand enhancement for the AF&PA-represented paper and timber industry.”

ForestEthics says that “out of 543 audits of SFI-certified companies since 2004, not one acknowledges any major issues—such as soil erosion, clearcutting, water quality, or chemical usage—that are known to be problems with large-scale timber operations.”

While ForestEthics is the leader of this movement, it isn’t alone. Between March and September of last year, several major companies — including Aetna,  Allstate, AT&T, Office Depot, State Farm, and Sprint — publicly announced their intention to remove the SFI label from their products and/or to avoid the use of SFI-labeled products in the future. Just last week, according to ForestEthics, several more big brands — including Philips Van Heusen, Shutterfly, and U.S. Airways — decided to let go of SFI as well.

President and CEO of SFI, Kathy Abusow, was quick to rebut the allegations put forth by ForestEthics and said that “ForestEthics’ malicious campaigns and bullying tactics will not deter us from [our] focus of responsible forestry and conservation collaboration.”

“Behind the green paint on SFI’s brand is business-as-usual forest destruction,” says Aaron Sanger of ForestEthics. “Today’s leading companies want environmentally responsible partners, not the seal of a timber industry-supported organization that leading environmental groups believe is irresponsible.”

Many of the companies trending away from SFI have instead chosen to become certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the regulatory foresting agency that ForestEthics supports. And caught in the middle are consumers, who still aren’t sure of a “green” label’s worth.



Extpub | by Dr. Radut