This week, more than 10,000 consumers joined Bellingham-based environmental organization ForestEthics to fight back against greenwashing in the timber industry by filing complaints and submitting petitions to the Federal Trade Commission urging them to investigate the phony eco-certification label of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
Since the publication of the Green Guides in 1992, the FTC has protected consumers from fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices by corporations and industries that want to call their products or services "green" or "eco-friendly." The FTC periodically revises its Green Guides to keep up with market changes, with the most recent version of the guidelines just completed in the fall of 2012. But the rapid growth of the "green" market - expected to reach $1 trillion within the next ten years - has also witnessed a rise in false certification programs and intentionally misleading advertising claims that try to take advantage of consumers' good intentions by greenwashing some of the most environmentally destructive commodities one can buy.
The logging and timber industry created a crafty greenwashing marketing scheme early on, founding the Sustainable Forestry Initiative in 1994 just as the "green" market mentality was starting to catch on in the mainstream. Still governed and financed by industry giants to this day, including Weyerhauser, Plum Creek and Rayonier, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative continues to slap its specious logo on paper, pulp and wood products sourced from logging operations that create massive clear cuts, poison community water supplies with toxic chemicals and herbicides, cause landslides and devastating soil erosion, harm fish habitats with stream sediments ... just to name a few of the devastating practices utilized by logging operations to bring us copy paper, disposable cups and packaging materials.
While the FTC can't force the Sustainable Forestry Initiative to make the logging industry more environmentally responsible (clear cutting entire swaths of forests remains legal, along with other egregious forest-destroying logging practices), the FTC can stop Sustainable Forestry Initiative from falsely asserting that the organization is independent from the industry and corporations it is designed to serve.
An unprecedented expression of concern, the 2,800 individual complaints filed against Sustainable Forestry Initiative along with ForestEthics' complaint, now constitute the largest number of Green Guide complaints for a single scheme ever filed with the FTC. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative has material connections to "big timber." Most of its operating budget, as much as 93 percent, comes from major logging corporations, and members of its board also sit on boards of the largest timber companies in North America. Consumers and regulators alike are taking notice of Sustainable Forestry Initiative's obvious conflict of interest. ForestEthics has been working to shed light on Sustainable Forestry Initiative's allegiance to its corporate coffers since 2009. So far we've helped 24 major companies including Staples, AT&T, Hewlett Packard, Office Depot, and Southwest airlines move away from Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Not only are we taking a stand to protect forests, our collective action demonstrates an even greater demand: the truth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jim Ace of Bellingham is a senior campaigner with ForestEthics, a Bellingham-based environmental advocacy organization.