Why USGBC Should Recognize SFI – Rigorous Independent Audits and Continuous Improvement

By Mike Ferrucci, Forestry Program Manager and Lead Auditor, NSF-ISR
March 16, 2012

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is asking for comments on the draft language for its LEED rating system. SFI Inc. has invited views on the treatment of third-party forest certification, which must be “FSC or better” according to the latest USGBC credit language. In this post, Mike Ferrucci, Forestry Program Manager and Lead Auditor for NSF-International Strategic Registrations, offers an auditor’s view of independent SFI certification.

My job is to verify that SFI program participants seeking certification meet all the relevant requirements of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) 2010-2014 Standard.

I make sure operations are in compliance with all applicable laws in the United States and Canada, as well as unique SFI requirements such as logger training, landowner outreach and research. I confirm that wildlife habitat needs and water quality are protected, that workers are properly trained, that harvesting is sustainable, and that there have been opportunities for community involvement as required by the SFI 2010-2014 Standard.

I also identify opportunities to improve performance – continual improvement is a principle and auditable requirement of the SFI forest standard, and many audit summaries recommend areas for improvement. One of the primary goals of voluntary SFI certification is to continually improve forest practices.

Each audit team includes professionals with appropriate skills and knowledge in disciplines such as forestry, wildlife ecology, occupational health and safety and hydrology, as well as expertise in certification protocols – we are accredited, impartial and qualified. A typical SFI certification audit takes several days and involves two to four auditors with knowledge and skills appropriate to the scope, scale and geography of the operation being audited.

All certification bodies that conduct SFI forest management certification audits must meet the accreditation requirements developed by a national member of the International Accreditation Forum – in our case it is ANAB, and it makes sure we meet its requirements by auditing our performance every year.

SFI Inc. is not involved at all in forest certification audits – that’s the whole point of independent third-party certification. If anyone has a concern about our findings, they can raise this with the certified company or with us, and if they are unsatisfied with the response, they can raise it with the body that accredited us, in our case it is ANAB.

What SFI does do is develop the standards, and make sure they are understood. The SFI 2010-2014 Standard is a single standard for forests across the US and Canada, with indicators that may also be supported by more specific interpretations – and that’s important to promote consistency among different certifiers.

SFI audits follow established international norms – we can award certificates with isolated minor non-conformances but not if there are major non-conformances or many minor non-conformances. My advice for companies that want to be certified to SFI is that they should make sure everything is in order before I arrive. If the SFI standard requirements are not being met, I have no choice – I won’t be issuing an SFI certificate.

I certify forests to SFI and I work on audit teams for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards, and my message to the U.S. Green Building Council is this: I know how hard it is to earn SFI certification. Forests certified to SFI or FSC are well managed and meet the high expectations of consumers. If the USGBC’s goal is to reward excellence, products from forests certified to SFI should be equally entitled to LEED certified wood credits.

Respected organizations are calling on the U.S. Green Building Council to recognize all credible certification programs used in North America for its LEED rating system – including the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, American Tree Farm System, Canadian Standards Association and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. The LEED Rating System Third Public Comment Period is open until March 20, 2012. At the end of the review period, USGBC members will vote on the final draft.

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