Modern efforts to define sustainable development and sustainable forest management have met with confusion and argument. A debate over criteria and indicators to be used to measure forest sustainability is at the heart of the issue. Any attempt to define sustainability in a sentence, or a paragraph, or even several pages can be limiting. I think you will see the complexity of the issue if you study the content and links provided here.
Doug MacCleery, forest expert with the United States Forest Service, concedes that forest sustainability issues are very complicated and very much depends on agenda. MacCleery says, "To define sustainability in the abstract is likely to be nigh on to impossible...before one can define it, one must ask, sustainability: for whom and for what?" One of the best definitions I've found comes from the British Columbia Forest Service - "Sustainability: A state or process that can be maintained indefinitely. The principles of sustainability integrate three closely interlined elements-the environment, the economy and the social system-into a system that can be maintained in a healthy state indefinitely."
Forest certification is based on the principle of sustainability. A worldwide leader in the certification effort is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) who has developed widely accepted sustainable forest principles. FSC "is a certification system that provides internationally recognized standard-setting, trademark assurance and accreditation services to companies, organizations, and communities interested in responsible forestry."
Another forest certification organization, called Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI), was developed by the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) and represents a North American forest industrial attempt to deal with sustainability. SFI presents an alternative approach that may be a bit more realistic for North American forests. The organization is no longer affiliated with AF&PA.
SFI's collection of sustainable forestry principles were developed to achieve a much broader practice of sustainable forestry throughout the United States without higher cost to the consumer. SFI suggests that sustainable forestry is a dynamic concept that will evolve with experience. New knowledge provided through research will be used in the evolution of United States industrial forestry practices.
Having a Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) label on wood products suggests that their forest certification process assures consumers that they are buying wood and paper products from a responsible source, backed by a rigorous, third-party certification audit.