Green building will be on the rise as the economy recovers, according to most experts. To find out more about certified wood and how woodworkers can use sustainable materials in their projects, Timber Products Company sat down with Kathy Abusow, President and CEO of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® Inc. (SFI), a non-profit organization dedicated to responsible forestry. SFI is active in conservation research, community partnerships and third-party certification to SFI standards on approximately 200 million acres of forest land across North America. 

TL: What is the SFI program?  Who sets the standards and who oversees the program?

Abusow: SFI Inc. is an independent, nonprofit organization that is solely responsible for maintaining, overseeing and improving the internationally recognized Sustainable Forestry Initiativeprogram. As an organization, SFI brings together all kinds of people and groups who depend on North American forests and want to keep them thriving for generations to come–including forest companies, conservation groups, aboriginal communities, small family forest landowners, loggers, universities and government agencies. Third-Party Wood Certifications on the Rise, Says SFI Chief

The SFI Standard is the world’s largest single forest certification standard. More than 200 million acres (81 million hectares) across Canada and the U.S. are certified to the SFI forest management standard.

TL: How does SFI certified wood fit into green building programs?

Abusow: Building materials have a huge impact on the environment. Wood from responsibly managed forests is an excellent choice for any new construction or renovation–residential or commercial–thanks to its desirable aesthetic qualities, numerous environmental characteristics and its easy, adaptable use in construction.

Trees sequester and store carbon while producing oxygen, reducing greenhouse gases and improving air quality. Besides clean air, forests provide many other benefits, including clean water, wildlife habitat, valuable products and jobs.

Third-party forest certification standards like the SFI’s offer a proof point that the forest has been managed for multiple values–and will be renewed. SFI’s chain-of-custody certification and certified sourcing provide alternative ways to practice responsible sourcing for construction or renovation projects.

Many credible green building rating systems such as the International Green Construction Code, The National Green Building Standard (ANSI/ICC 700-2012) and Green Globes (ANSI/GBI 01-2010) recognize SFI. They see the value of multiple forest certification standards and offer credits for products certified to these forest certification standards.

TL: In very general terms, how does SFI compare with FSC? 

Abusow: With only 10 percent of the world’s forests certified to any forest certification standard, SFI values all credible forest certification standards. The biggest difference between SFI and FSC is that SFI has a single forest management standard that applies to forests in the U.S. and Canada.  FSC has 28 different standards that apply to 20 countries across the world.  So asking for SFI means you are supporting North American forests, communities and workers. FSC product could come from other parts of the world like Russia, China or South America.  By asking for products from forests certified to the SFI standard you are supporting sustainable North American forestry, as SFI recognizes CSA and ATFS as well.  Today, 70 percent of the certified forests in North America are recognized by SFI.  Almost 90 percent of FSC certified product comes from outside the U.S.

Another big difference between SFI and FSC is that we have a standard and people in place to support responsible forestry on all forestlands across North America, whether certified or not.  SFI’s unique fiber sourcing program promotes responsible forest management on uncertified lands. In addition, SFI supports the people and communities who depend on the forests:

  • SFI works in the community: 35 local and regional SFI implementation committees work every day with all stakeholders to improve forest management.
  • SFI requires training and education: 136,000 loggers and resource professionals have been trained since 1995 in responsible forestry through the SFI program or its recognition of other programs.
  • SFI invests in research and conservation: Since 1995, SFI program participants have invested more than $1.3 billion in research as well as another $4.8 million in grants for conservation research and projects to improve best practices.
  • SFI recognizes the small landowner:  SFI recognizes American Tree Farm System (ATFS) certified forest content in the SFI on product labels.  ATFS applies to some 83,000 U.S. small landowners, representing 26 million acres of certified forestland.


TL: What is the future of the SFI program and certified wood in general?

Abusow: Most people want to ensure that forests remain healthy for future generations. That’s why we’ve seen a rise in the use of third-party forest certification programs such as SFI, which provide a market incentive to landowners to keep managed forests as forests that can provide economic return and at the same time support environmental values and local communities.

SFI has a firm commitment to continual improvement. The SFI Standard is reviewed through an open public process every five years to incorporate the latest scientific information and respond to emerging issues. In fact, the 18-month review process leading to the SFI 2015-2019 Standard begins this year and will include two public comment periods and several regional workshops. We invite your customers and readers to participate.   

TL: What’s the bottom line on SFI and green building that a cabinetmaker should know?

Abusow: Companies should ask their suppliers for products certified to the SFI standard.  The act of asking will get the suppliers to build demand and ensure they stock the supply of products certified to the SFI standard.  This will raise awareness throughout the entire supply chain.

If at the end of the day you want to support North American forests, conservation, jobs and communities, you should ask for products certified to the SFI standard. SFI is a program designed and implemented specifically for U.S. and Canadian forests. This is the big reason many stakeholders have urged the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to revise the forest certification credit to allow all credible forest certification standards to be recognized in the LEED rating tools. After all, only 10 percent of the world’s forests are certified to any of the forest certification standards, and recognizing them equally could align well with USGBC’s interest in recognizing leaders and market transformation.

Also, we all have a role and can make a difference to increase responsible forestry today. If you see a procurement policy or a green building program like LEED that doesn’t recognize SFI, you should stand up with the 100 members of congress and governors who have voiced their concern over LEED’s lack of recognition of well-managed certified forest products right here at home.

It’s simple: whenever you and your clients shop–look for, ask about, and buy SFI. Check with your suppliers and retailers. It’s your assurance, and theirs, that a wood product comes from responsibly managed and legal forests.

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