Which Is More Green – SFI or FSC Lumber?


The two main sustainable forestry certification programs (Sustainable Forestry Initiative, SFI, and Forest Stewardship Council, FSC) have been fighting for years to determine which is better.  SFI has struggled to gain a foothold in the industry, and has been working to be approved by the US Green Building Council’s LEED green building rating system.  In an attempt to fully understand the potential greenwashing, let’s take a look at the two wood certification systems compare, green-wise.


Harvest Requirements

The FSC standard requires that growth meet or outpace harvesting at a planning unit level (area of forest land) over a ten-year period, except for certain situations, such as a large fire or invasive species.  SFI allows harvest to exceed growth, and looks at areas of land by owner, allowing over-harvesting on large tracts with growth occurring on small tracts far away from the main site.


Old Growth

FSC requires protection of old growth areas, including the restoration of old growth when it is not prevalent in an area. SFI does not require protection, just that there be a program to promote conservation of old growth.  No level of outcome or any other details are provided.


Protecting Endangered Species

FSC requires protection of rare, threatened, or endangered species, broadening the definition of these species beyond state and federal requirements, identifying those species that will soon be rare, threatened, or endangered.  SFI requires a program to protect globally imperiled species, which are usually identified by state and federal programs.


Protecting Water Quality

FSC requires protection of water quality, going beyond state-level and voluntary requirements when necessary, from direct impacts of harvesting, erosion, and chemical runoff.  SFI requires conformance with state, federal, and voluntary requirements only.


Protecting Habitat

FSC requires protection of natural habitat for underrepresented ecosystems, including those recognized by federal and state programs.  SFI requires protection of ecological areas identified under state and federal programs as having high conservation value.



Regional limits are placed on the size of clearcut areas by FSC.  These limits range from 2 acres in the Ozarks to 20 acres in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley and the Ouachitas.  In other forests, clearcutting is not allowed, and no large clearcutting is allowed when it threatens ecological integrity.  SFI does not have a size restriction on clearcutting, and has no specific requirement to maintain ecological integrity after harvest.  Clearcutting is not allowed to be over 120 acres averaged across the land owned by one owner, which may span multiple states and may not be contiguous.


Use of Pesticides

FSC prohibits the use of some pesticides that are known to be dangerous, even if they are commonly used in the forestry industry.  There are exceptions, based on site specific justification and having no other viable options.  Workers that apply pesticides must be trained in their use.  SFI requires the minimization of the use of pesticides, using the least toxic and in the narrowest spectrum possible.  Requires supervisors of workers who apply pesticides to be trained.


Genetically Modified Organisms

FSC bans the use of GMOs.  SFI has no specific requirement addressing this issue.



FSC does not specifically address the visual appeal of a forest area.  It is listed as one of the many social impacts that forest managers must address.  SFI requires a program to maintain visual appeal.  In addition, visual appeal is to be considered in road placement, harvesting, landing design, and other management activities.  Recreational opportunities are to be promoted, where consistent with forest management objectives.


Outreach to Public and Indigenous Peoples

FSC requires outreach to the local communities and tribal representatives and protection of their rights and resources.  SFI has no requirements on private lands, and on public lands outreach is required for planning and management activities, with an additional requirement to meet with affected indigenous peoples.


Management and Decision Making

FSC is an open membership-based organization, open to all organizations and individuals, except for government agencies and trade organizations.  The Board of Directors is elected by the members, with equal participation from the three chambers: economic (industry members, manufacturers), social (educational, research), and environmental (protection).  Each chamber has equal voting rights, and a majority vote from each chamber is necessary for approval of any action.  SFI is not an open organization.  The Board is self-appointed, and the three chambers are equally represented.  An 80% vote, regardless of chamber representation, is needed for decision-making.


Third-Party Testing

FSC requires all claims to be third-party verified.  SFI plan participants do not have to undergo a third-party verification.  However, to put a label on a product or call a product certified, it must be audited by a third-party certification authority who has been approved by ANSI or the Standards Council of Canada.


Geographic Area

FSC is a world-wide program, while SFI is only in the US and Canada.


Next we look at the Indoor Environmental Quality credit category.

Sources | Images: Comparison of Standards by FSC-US, A Comparison of SFI and FSC, Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

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