The Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI) Program

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Society of American Foresters                                                                               International Society of Tropical Foresters


The Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI) Program

Kathy Abusow and Rick Cantrell, Sustainable Forestry Initiative

The SFI® program is an internationally endorsed forest certification program that is positively influencing the markets for certified forest products while improving forest practices across North America and promoting responsible procurement globally through the SFI standard.

The SFI program was launched in 1994 as one of forest sector’s contributions to the vision of sustainable development established by the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). It was developed with multi-stakeholder input including Environmental Non-Government Organizations (ENGOS), industry, scientists, academics, government agencies and professional organizations. The SFI program is based on the premise that responsible environmental behavior and sound business decisions can co-exist to the benefit of communities, landowners, manufacturers, shareholders, customers, the environment, and future generations.

The program began as a voluntary effort based on a definition of “sustainable forestry” as “to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs by practicing a land stewardship ethic which integrates the reforestation, managing, growing, nurturing, and harvesting of trees for useful products with the conservation of soil, air and water quality, wildlife and fish habitat, & aesthetics.” Today the program is the only single North American standard covering 135 million acres, making it one of the largest certification standards in the world, with more than 200 program participants across North America.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standard & SFI Procurement Requirements

The SFI program ( has progressed steadily from a voluntary code of conduct into a globally recognized North American standard composed of principles, objectives, performance measures, and core (mandatory) indicators. The SFI Standard is a research and science-based standard that takes careful consideration of forestry issues of interest in the marketplace and through its continual improvement process often builds new requirements into its standard that reflect new information and science as it becomes available.

The SFI standard requires that responsible forestry is practiced on the lands being certified to the standard but it also requires that SFI companies procuring wood from uncertified lands reach out and promote best management practices, awareness and training. These SFI certified companies therefore influence millions of additional acres through the training of loggers and foresters in best management practices. This unique commitment to sustainable forestry recognizes that all forest landowners, not just SFI certified companies, play a critical role in ensuring the long-term health and sustainability of our forests. There are two distinct certifications, one to the SFI forest certification standard for those managing land and one to the SFI procured wood requirements for those procuring wood fiber for their manufacturing facilities.

From the Forests to the Market

Forest certification is often complemented with a chain-of-custody certification, which is a mechanism used to track wood from a certified forest, providing a link between the certified forest and the certified product. SFI offers a suite of product and promotional labels that allow appropriately certified organizations to make claims to the content in the product they sell that comes from certified forests. So whether it is a paper, packaging, or construction materials a claim can be made regarding the certified content, similar to recycled content claims and labels seen on products. This helps customers and consumers of forest products identify and give preference to products from well managed forests. Over the past few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of CoC certifications with SFI seeing an increase of 90 percent alone in 2007. This means more SFI certified forest products are available in the market and SFI believes this trend is good for the forests and good for the supply chain. In this age of increased corporate social responsibility and consumer awareness we believe SFI provides the market with a valuable tool to buy responsibly.

Third Party Independent Certification

The SFI standard requires 3rd party independent certification audits by competent and accredited certification bodies. This 3rd party certification is necessary for both the forest land certification and for the wood procurement certification (also known as fiber sourcing). Third party certification also holds true for the SFI chain of custody certification which tracks fiber from certified forests through the supply chain so that product claims can be made associated with certification. All certification bodies must be accredited by a member of the International Accreditation Forum under the specific SFI approved accreditation programs.

Governance and Stakeholder Involvement

The SFI program is operated by SFI Inc. which is a fully independent non-profit charitable 501(c)(3) organization. SFI Inc. is governed by its 18-member board of directors made up of three chambers with equal representation: environmental, social and economic. The diversity of the board members reflects the variety of interests in the forestry community. This multi-stakeholder Board of Directors is the sole governing body over the SFI Standard and all aspects of the SFI program, including the SFI Standard, chain of custody, labeling and claims as well as marketing and promotion.

The SFI External Review Panel, comprised of environmental, conservation and forestry experts, annually reviews the program’s progress, and releases their report publicly. In 1997, the Panel adopted an independent charter under which it selects its own membership and develops its own agenda to represent the public interest as an outside observer of the SFI program.

Thirty-seven SFI Implementation Committees (SICs) across North America operate at the regional, state, and provincial level to help promote the SFI Standard through targeted local actions. They involve public agencies, universities, local forestry associations, landowners, loggers, and conservation groups. As part of the SFI program, SICs promote logger training programs to reach the thousands of independent contractors that are the key to the quality of forest harvesting operations. By the end of 2007 more than 100,000 loggers and foresters had completed SFI-approved training programs.

Conservation Support

SFI has the support more than 25 conservation groups including The Conservation Fund, NatureServe, Ducks Unlimited and the American Bird Conservancy. SFI also partners with groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

SFI Inc works with various organizations, including:

  • NatureServe which maintains and improves data on occurrence of endangered species and communities – aiding program participants in their protection;

  • National Council of Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI) which has a team of scientists to perform research on topics of interest to SFI. Recently NCASI completed a compendium of state and provincial best management practices that will aid the next round of revisions to the SFI standard. NCASI also completed a compendium of credible regional conservation plans in the US and Canada to aid program participants in meeting the SFI standard requirement for participation in landscape and conservation planning.

  • American Bird Conservancy which recently helped to develop new SFI standard provisions to conserve priority sites for endangered and critically endangered species.

Global Recognition

In December of 2005, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC) announced it endorsed the SFI program and appointed the Sustainable Forestry Board to be the PEFC-US governing body. PEFC sets minimum benchmarks for national forest certification systems worldwide and endorsement schemes that meet or exceed those requirements. PEFC endorsement of the SFI Standard will bring greater recognition to the SFI internationally and enhance marketing opportunities for SFI Program Participants in numerous countries in Europe and Asia and throughout the world (

The SFI Standard is applied to larger forest operations, and SFI Inc. recognizes the American Tree Farm Systemâ ( as the non-industrial landowner certification program in the U.S., encompassing 73,000 landowners and over 27 million acres (11.7 million hectares). The American Tree Farm System is currently seeking endorsement by the PEFC.

Posted 27 February 2008

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