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Dovetail Partners has released 30 reports addressing various aspects of forest certification since 2004. During this time, a recurring question has been “What are the differences between the SFI and FSC standards?” Some answers to this question can be provided based upon specific land manager and auditor experiences, but a point-by-point comparison has been difficult. The fact that until recently the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) administered nine regional standards for assessments in the United States versus a single national standard administered by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) was a major barrier to an effective comparison. Experiences with the standards in one state or region did not always translate directly to experiences in other states or regions. Completing a comparison of the programs became easier in 2010 as the FSC moved to the use of a single national standard for forest management certification assessments conducted throughout the United States, and as the SFI completed its second 5-year standards review process. 

In 2010, Dovetail released a report wherein we concluded, among other things that “Significant changes have occurred within the major certification programs in recent years, and, . . . it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between certification systems in North America.” This conclusion reflected the structural changes that had occurred in the operations of the programs, including SFI’s adoption of a chain-of-custody system and achievement of international endorsement. Prior to these changes, structural differences like these could be used to easily differentiate the programs; that is no longer the case. Meaningful comparisons now rest on the details of each program’s standards.

A strong case can be made that the differences between the programs’ standards are significant. There are also significant parallels and similarities due to the fact that both programs build upon compliance with local laws, regulations, forestry science and best management practices. 

This report summarizes some of the differences between the forest management certification standards of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council. The report focuses on the standards that apply to forest management operations and audits conducted in the United States. This report is based upon information from publicly available documents, standards and materials from the FSC and SFI programs, and is also informed by FSC and SFI auditing experiences and certification knowledge of the authors.

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