Dogwood Alliance’s Response to’s Recent Forest Stewardship Council Certification Announcement
Recently (IP), the world’s largest paper producer and the biggest paper producer in the Southern US, was tagged a top ten corporate greenwasher by Wall Street 24/7 a company providing analysis and commentary for US and global equity investors. And indeed again and again over the years we have seen and heard lots of promotional noise from the company without true green progress to back it up.
Central to IP’s greenwashing push to present itself as a sustainability leader is its decade long funding and promotion of the highly-criticized, industry-driven forest certification system, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI): SFI is widely criticized by the global environmental community as a greenwashing tool that allows companies to slap a green label on products made from business-as-usual industrial forestry practices like large-scale clearcutting, the conversion of natural forests to monoculture tree plantations and the routine use of toxic fertilizers and herbicides that are destroying important ecosystems in North America, including in the Southern US, the largest paper producing region in the world.
This week, IP announced Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Chain of Custody certification at a number of its mills in the US claiming “the largest FSC manufacturing platform across the globe.”Contrary to SFI, FSC is the only forest products certification system in existence today that is supported by the broader conservation community, including Dogwood Alliance.It is the only certification system that provides meaningful protection for endangered forests and restrictions on the conversion of natural forests to plantations, large-scale clearcutting and the use of chemicals in plantations.
So, has IP seen the light or is this just another attempt at greenwashing?
One thing is clear. Over the past two years, IP has been feeling the pressure about forest sustainability issues from all directions – environmental groups, its customers and even its competitors. As a direct result of Dogwood Alliance’s campaign targeting IP’s customers in the office supply industry and, more recently large IP customers of paper packaging, many of IP’s largest customers including Staples, OfficeMax, Universal Music Group, Tetra Pak ….and others) have been pushing the company to produce FSC certified products.
In addition to market demand and direct pressure from large customers, a major competitor– Domtar – has positioned itself as a market leader when it comes to producing FSC certified paper in the office supply market.Two years ago, Domtar bought a number of mills from Weyerhaeuser in the Southern US that produce office paper, making it the largest manufacturer of office paper in the world.Just last month, the Canadian company announced that it achieved FSC Chain of Custody certification at four of its five mills in the Southern US –IP’s home turf.
So, IP is now vying for a leadership position and scrambling to satisfy its customers who want FSC certified paper products. Through its announcement this week, IP appears to concede that it has failed to convince the marketplace that SFI certification is a credible measure of sustainability — an interesting place to be in light of its heavy investment in SFI certification. On the one hand, the announcement by IP represents huge movement by the world’s largest paper company and on its surface may suggest that perhaps IP has jumped ahead of Domtar as the FSC market leader. On the other hand a closer look at what FSC chain of custody certification really means (or doesn’t mean) is important. Buyers beware.
The fact that IP now has FSC chain of custody certification at some of its facilities means simply that it has the appropriate mechanisms in place to be able to track FSC certified fiber from the forest, through the mills and to an end product. It does not mean that IP is actually moving FSC certified fiber through its mills or producing any FSC certified products. Most importantly, it does not mean that anything at all has changed in the forest.
Unlike Domtar, which recognizes FSC as a better certification system than SFI, actually produces FSC certified products at its mills and actively partners with conservation groups and others to work towards expanding FSC on the ground in the forest where it matters most, IP continues to promote SFI as equal, hasn’t produced one FSC certified product to date and refuses to work with conservation groups on expanding FSC on the ground. So, while IP is moving in response to market pressure, there is no tangible evidence yet that IP is in fact changing its behavior.While IP now has the keys to the Prius (FSC) it is still driving a Hummer (SFI).
IP must continue to be held accountable for the forest destruction in the Southern US and around the world that results from its production of paper.While IP may appear to be moving, it hasn’t changed anything on the ground.Keeping the market pressure on IP is critical to ensuring that this week’s big announcement isn’t just another attempt at greenwashing.IP must clearly understand that until it takes tangible action that results in real improvements on the ground in the forests where it sources fiber it will continue to be branded as the industry laggard when it comes to forest sustainability.