01/27/2012 03:32 EST | Updated 03/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Toilet paper ecolabels confuse Canadians

A Marketplace investigation reveals that while a majority of Canadians surveyed believe that a sustainable forestry logo on toilet paper means that no clear cutting takes place — this is not the case.

Majesta, a toilet paper made by New Brunswick's Irving Tissue, sports a Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) logo on its packages. It is the only major Canadian-made toilet paper to prominently display the SFI logo.The certification program has a set of rules that companies must follow to protect forests for the short and long term in order to get a passing grade to use SFI's logo. That includes hiring an auditor to monitor how a company manages its forests.

SFI was created by the pulp and paper industry in 1994. Since then, it has become a non-profit organization and one of the largest certifying monitoring programs in North America.

However, SFI, as do other certification programs, allows for companies to engage in clearcutting, a controversial practice in which all the trees in one area are cut down. But SFI does set some conditions. The clearcut must be of a certain size and there must be a plan to grow the forest back.

"It's not about trying to sell more tissue with the SFI label on. It's just to communicate to the consumer that we have good forestry management," Irving Tissue president Robert Irving said.

SFI's CEO Kathy Abusow said many environmental groups support her organization's efforts, adding that Canadians understand the logo's message.

"In terms of clear cutting, when we did our research (a thousand consumers) and it was independently conducted research on our behalf – one per cent of consumers thought that it meant no clear cutting," she said.

But a national online survey carried out by Leger Marketing, and commissioned by Marketplace, found that 57 per cent of those surveyed said that the SFI logo probably means there's no clear cutting. Poll results also showed that 61 per cent of respondents also believed the logo meant that the toilet paper probably includes recycled material. The survey was conducted Dec. 5-7 among a sample of 1,196 people.

None of Majesta toilet paper is made from recycled material. It all comes from new trees because they make the soft toilet paper Canadians want.

Jamie Simpson, a member of the New Brunswick Association of Registered Professional Foresters, and critic of SFI, said the logo doesn't mean very much.

"Not very much at all. This is typical of many of the certified SFI companies, typical of their practices that I've seen in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, this whole tree clear-cut harvesting," he said.

"It's certainly not sustainable [forestry] from my point of view."

Abusow said the logo is a mark that a company has met SFI standards, which support responsible forestry.

"If you're speaking to rural Canadians, not those in downtown Toronto, but rural Canadians, they understand it that this is a cycle. That five years later they can come back and they can see a forest where once it was a clearcut."