Capitol’s SFI Platform Symbolizes Greener Inauguration–And Debate

It’s important for every politician to have a strong platform when running for office. And if they make it all the way to the White House, it helps if they stand on another platform that is not only sturdy but sustainable and recyclable.

At today’s second inauguration of President Obama, the 10,000-square-foot stage on which he stood to give his address in front of the U.S. Capitol was built entirely out of lumber that was certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), according to an item on the Woodworking Network. The SFI standard claims that the wood was harvested under methods that protect water quality, biodiversity and habitat for threatened wildlife. (Update: The SFI label, however, has been called into question as a reliable indicator of sustainable forestry, with many environmental groups claiming that SFI allows for clearcutting and is not nearly as stringent as the standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council. See comments below regarding the controversy.)

Image of the 2013 inauguration stage preparations by Ron Cogswell via Flickr.

Image of the 2013 inauguration stage preparations by Ron Cogswell via Flickr.

Wood products company Sierra Pacific Industries provided the lumber for the inaugural platform, which was only used for a few hours but held more than 1,600 of the most powerful VIPs in the country. Guests on the stage included members of the U.S. Congress, all nine Supreme Court Justices, the President’s Cabinet, former Presidents, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, several state governors and foreign diplomats, and the relatives of the President and Vice President — not to mention Beyonce, Jay-Z, James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson.

The structural dimension lumber that held up this precious cargo, Sierra Pacific says, was made from kiln-dried Douglas fir, supplied by Grasmick Lumber, a contractor lumber yard in Baltimore that has supplied the platform lumber for the past three inaugurations.

The President's inauguration stage under construction using SFI-certified lumber. Image via Sierra Pacific Industries.

The President’s inauguration stage under construction using SFI-certified lumber. Image via Sierra Pacific Industries.

Throwing a party that will attract more than half a million people, many of whom will fly in from all over the world and dine on haute cuisine at lavish parties, can almost never be called green. But the District of Columbia government, which has budgeted about $6.5 million on the festivities, is at least making some efforts to reduce its carbon footprint compared with previous inauguration weekends.

Other than the stage on Capitol Hill, most of the other green aspects of the inauguration appear to be in the form of waste reduction, recycling and diversion plans, according to a report from Triple Pundit.

Some of the “low-hanging fruit” that will be addressed, the article said, will be the extensive recycling efforts at the 2013 Green Inaugural Ball, hosted by National Wildlife Federation and the Newseum. The ball, organizers say, will only use compostable serving materials or reusable items such as glass and flatware. Wolfgang Puck Caterers will recycle its used frying oil into biofuels, expired light bulbs will be recovered for their metal and glass, and all food scraps will be composted for use on urban farms in the D.C. area.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.


  • Reply January 22, 2013

    Truth and Honesty

    Turns out that Sierra Pacific Industry is a big greenwasher – they are clearcutting 2/3 of their 1.7 million acreas of forests in California – much of which is in John Muir’s beloved Sierra Range of Light. Shame. Check it out by using Google Earth Sattelite views of any Sierra forest area. They cut hundred year oaks and just burn them to get them out of the way and use herbicides and strychnine in our mountain watersheds to eliminate native plants and rodents in what used to be a biodiverse forest following clearcutting. Find out the truth. Google clearcutting and Sierra Pacific Industries

  • Reply January 22, 2013

    Brush Hog

    Here are 4 aerial mviews of Sierra Pacific’s Eco-Groovy forestry.

  • Reply January 22, 2013

    Brush Hog

    SFI certification is an industry-sponsored greenwashing standard. It was developed in response to the arrival of the more stringent and authentic Forest Stewardship Council’s certification standard. Home Depot shareholders voted to only carry certified lumber, and the timber industry didn’t want to go with the FSC standard, so they came up with their own rating system – SFI – that lets them continue with business as usual and call it sustainable. All of the areas in the links below are SFI-certified.

  • Reply January 22, 2013

    Jim Ace

    Don’t believe the hype! The inaugural platform wasn’t green, it was greenwashed!

    It was made of wood from forests in California, Oregon, and Washington that were destroyed, clearcut, trashed…and in ways that degrade our water quality, clog our fish-bearing streams with mud, cause flooding and landslides, destroy habitat for threatened wildlife, and generally harm biodiversity. If these forests are replanted at all, they will be converted to a single-species tree plantation (a “monoculture” – which is especially susceptible to fire and disease) and sprayed with toxic herbicides by helicopter.

    The industry responsible for these atrocities so desperately wants us to believe it is “green” that it created the false eco-label, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), to convince us of it.

    Don’t be fooled by this cynical ploy. The SFI is an industry marketing campaign, not a credible forest certification.

    The SFI is bad for forests, and bad for you.

  • Reply January 23, 2013

    Katherine Evatt

    SPI clearcutting is destroying Sierra Nevada forests and watersheds. It destroys wildlife habitat, releases huge amounts of carbon from the soil, eliminates biological diversity and increases fire danger. To call it “green” is a total distortion of the term. For more on what SPI is doing in California, see

  • Reply January 23, 2013

    Sanders LaMont

    As a person who lives in the Sierra Nevada, surrounded by SPI forest lands, I would like to point out that this so-called green corporation maximizes profits by clear-cutting, which destroys habitat. They use herbicides extensively, which pollutes our water supplies. They replant trees that do not restore biodiversity, resulting in loss of native animals and plants. And a few years ago they donated the money to start this so-called “Green Stamp” for their lumber, a non-profit that represents industry, not the public. And they have made enough political contributions that they essentially control the California legislature, to assure no unfriendly laws are passed that might protect the Sierra and reduce their profit margins. A little more homework on the part of the writer would have been helpful to understand the issues. Check out Home Depot policy, which will not sell this lumber because it is “greenwashed,” sort of like eyewashed.

  • Reply January 24, 2013

    Sustainable Forestry Initative

    The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) appreciates EarthTechling for highlighting the fact that the Inauguration Platform was built with lumber certified to the SFI Standard. However, your update and some comments repeat erroneous information from a group that does not represent the views of the mainstream conservation community and undermines the efforts of social, economic and conservation interests to manage working forests. The reality is that one-third of forest certifications to the SFI standard in the U.S. are on state-managed lands whose mandate it is to operate in the public interest. The remaining forest certifications to the SFI standard are by landowners, conservation groups, indigenous peoples and universities. It is a shame that a handful of individuals set out to undermine and misrepresent the hard work of thousands. SFI is an inclusive, values-driven, science-informed organization that supports forests, conservation, communities and jobs. Please learn more about us at

    • Reply January 24, 2013

      Randy Woods

      Thank you for your input on this issue. I felt it was important to
      point out the many objections that more than a few people have made
      concerning the SFI standards. We at EarthTechling welcome a healthy
      exchange of ideas and criticism in the comments section and invite
      other readers and organizations to chime in on the debate.

  • Reply January 24, 2013

    William Street

    The predictable knee jerk reaction from certain “green” wishing to protect their own paychecks is getting old. However SFI was started it has evolved, as has FSC. Unfortunately, while SFI is evolving towards stricter standards, FSC is weakening theirs. Some of the largest clear-cuts in North America are on FSC certified forests. FSC’s interim standards which appear to be permanent are a complete greenwash. Even more important FSC is now proposing to weaken their social standards by giving in to large US corporations who are unwilling to honor internal labor standards in the US.

    This action if taken by FSC is appalling. The way forward is for all certification
    systems to recognize that sustainable forest management requires social,
    economic, and environmental protection. Getting just one of these doesn’t make you 1/3rd the way there, it makesyou nowhere.

    SFI reached out to workers and their unions when developing their most recent standards and have the strongest labor protections of any certification system in the US. It’s time for FSC and their supporters to join in the fight for social justice as
    well as environmental protection and to stop being part of the problem.

  • Reply January 24, 2013


    The National Association of State Foresters is pleased to see this article showcase the inaugural platform as a symbol of a “greener” inauguration. However we are disappointed to see misleading claims designed to promote FSC at the expense of SFI. Taking sides in this certification debate misses the opportunity to promote wood as a renewable resource and certification – regardless of one’s favored label – as a valuable tool for promoting sustainability. The National Association of State Foresters
    believes that SFI, along with the Forest Stewardship Council and the American
    Tree Farm System, includes the fundamental elements of a credible certification
    program and makes positive contributions to forest sustainability. No certification program can credibly claim to be “best”, and no certification program that promotes itself as the only certification option can maintain credibility. More on this position can
    be found in our policy statement on forest certification at

  • Reply January 25, 2013

    Tom Franklin

    As a representative of a national sportsmen’s organization committed to conserving wildlife
    habitat, I would like to share my viewpoint that SFI is a rigorous standard
    respected and supported by conservation organizations. I serve as a member of
    the conservation chamber of the SFI Board of Directors because I
    believe in the strength of the SFI Standard to help sustain wildlife habitat,
    biodiversity and clean water.

  • Reply March 10, 2013

    Susan S

    Stop arguing SFI vs.FSC and look at GoogleEarth.
    Do your eyes tell you this is acceptable? No one should be able to call SPI’s cumulative clearcuts in the Sierra Nevada and Shasta area sustainable forestry. It’s rape and pillage plain and simple, and the herbicides and strychnine seep eventually down the steep slopes and leach into everyone’s water supply. That’s not rocket science. In Calaveras County alone, SPI owns just under half of the forested
    property above the 3,500-foot elevation. SPI intends to clearcut two-thirds of this land. Replacing forests with even-age timber farms of fast growing poor-quality lumber does not equal sustainable forestry, it’s called shitty business. Tree farms are not proper habitat for wildlife and are extremely fire-prone. As for labor issues being considered, SPI doesn’t even employ many people in our county where their plan is to remove the bulk of their holdings here. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is greenwash, have no doubt.

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