SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard

In 2021, Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc. (SFI) launched a partnership to develop an Urban and Community Forest Sustainability standard that promotes the establishment of sustainable urban and community forests and seeks remedies for the climate crisis and other serious challenges that urban forests are ideally positioned to help address. This partnership included five urban forestry leaders, American Forests, Arbor Day Foundation, the International Society of Arboriculture, the Society of Municipal Arborists, and Tree Canada. Urban and community forests face significant threats, such as climate change; invasive and native insects, animals, plants, and diseases; water shortages, and so on. To counter these threats, raise awareness, and assist communities in managing these resources, SFI has engaged the urban forestry sector to create a standard for sustainable urban and community forests that meet local needs while meaningfully contributing to national initiatives, such as Canada’s 2 Billion Trees Program. SFI and its partners aimed to provide leadership in urban forestry and raise the profile of urban forests and trees as green infrastructure and nature-based solutions. The result is an Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard that promotes sustainable urban forestry based on 16 objectives. This standard is appropriate for organizations that own, manage or are responsible for urban forests. These organizations can come from all facets of the urban forest sector including but not limited to: governmental organizations (i.e. municipalities, counties, states, provinces), non-governmental organizations, Indigenous Peoples, community groups, healthcare organizations, educational organizations, and corporate organizations.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Community trees and forests provide many social and environmental benefits, including improved health and well-being, social cohesion and accessibility, outdoor learning environments, climate change solutions, reduced air pollution, and improved urban design. They also help combat climate change by capturing greenhouse gases and mitigating urban heat island effects in cities while improving public health and well-being, providing recreation space, and so much more. Urban forestry is the sustained planning, planting, protection, maintenance, management and care of trees, forests, and greenspaces, along with related resources in and around cities and communities for economic, environmental, social, and public health benefits. Urban and community forestry involves planning and managing urban forests to promote the many benefits trees provide for people, wildlife and the climate. Urban and community forests face significant threats from climate change, invasive and native insects, animals, plants, and diseases, and water shortages. To counter these threats, SFI formed a task group to evaluate the topic and surveyed the urban and community forestry sector in 2020 about bringing a standard and certification to the sector. Standards and their associated certifications are effective tools to increase engagement and improve performance. Standards are sector-developed minimum guidelines for appropriate planning, management, and care of a resource and their associated benefits and risks. Not only do standards provide a roadmap to sustainable management, they also allow organizations to prove their efforts through third-party verification and certification.

For additional climate information, look at the Resources section of this example (below). 

Identify Actions

The response from the urban and community forestry sector was very positive, with more than 90 percent of the over 600 self-selected stakeholders indicating that they were supportive of SFI facilitating an urban forestry standard and certification. To develop the new SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard, SFI set up a task group composed of leading experts that explored opportunities to seek remedies for the climate crisis and other challenges that urban forests are ideally positioned to help address, such as access to public spaces and social cohesion. The SFI standard development process is based on balanced representation from many different interest groups. This inclusion is also reflected in Task Group composition, reflecting a diversity of sector segments as well as a balanced representation of expertise, gender, race and geographical location. Task Group members were expected to participate in the following tasks, under the direction of the respective Task Group Chairs:

  • Prepare revised Standard text (first and subsequent drafts) for review by the SFI Resources Committee.
  • Review submitted comments from public comment periods and Standard Revision Workshops.

The timeline below outlines the steps taken in developing the standard.

2021: Launch Standard Development

  • Call for SFI Standards Revision Task Group Nominees – April, 2021.
  • Kick-off standard development task group meetings May – October 2021.
  • First public comment period (30 days) – November 2021.

2021 – 2022: Draft Standards

  • Task Group Meetings.
  • Second 30-day public comment period – July 2022.
  • Address public comments and refine the standard.

2023: Finalize & Launch New SFI Standard


Two public comment periods were implemented following the establishment of the Task Group and the standard’s development. The first comment period on the first SFI Urban-Community Forestry Sustainability Standard ran in November 2021, while the second comment period was held from July 2022 through to August 8, 2022. During these periods, the entire SFI Urban-Community Forest Sustainability Standard was able to comment. The comment period involved engagement from the conservation community, Indigenous communities, brand owners, government agencies, trade associations, academia and others, as gathering diverse opinions was integral to the development of the SFI Standards. The SFI Standard Development Task Group then reviewed and considered all comments from both public comment periods and the standard revision workshops that took place. This information was used to formulate the first and subsequent drafts for review by the SFI Resources Committee. The SFI Board of Directors will then consider and approve the SFI Standards. The standard was developed with the following principles in mind. Urban forests and trees:

  • are vital for community well-being, health, resiliency, and sustainability.
  • require proper planning, care, and management to optimize benefits and minimize risks.
  • depend upon understanding, awareness, appreciation, and engagement by people to thrive in communities.
  • associated benefits should be accessible and available to everyone.
  • are nature-based solutions to pressing issues and essential green infrastructure.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The SFI Urban Forest Standard promotes sustainable urban forests based on 16 objectives. This standard is appropriate for organizations that own, manage or are responsible for urban forests. Along with the standard, SFI has published a guidance document that can assist organizations and certification bodies in making appropriate management decisions to meet the Standard.

Objective 7: Climate-Smart Management, targets the promotion of climate change resilience and aims to address pressing environmental, social, and economic concerns using tree-related adaptation and mitigation strategies. This objective has three performance measures, each with its own set of indicators that measure the success of its implementation. One of these measures its indicators is highlighted below. For the full list of objectives, see the resources section of this example below.

Performance Measure 7.2: Organization will actively monitor and work to address the social, economic, and environmental vulnerabilities within their jurisdictions related to climate change and extreme weather (e.g., high temperatures, drought, rising sea levels, flooding, storms, pests and pathogens).

  • Indicator 7.2.1: Community vulnerability assessments and action plans developed for urban heat islands, storms and extreme weather, pests and pathogens, wildfire, ecological disruption, and social/economic disruption
  • Indicator 7.2.2: Natural disaster/emergency response and recovery plans in place for catastrophic events.
  • Indicator 7.2.3: Trees and green infrastructure sites are planned and actively managed to maximize long-term ecological and human health.

Next Steps

SFI is routinely researching ways to improve the functionality of its work. Thus the guidance document and standard may be updated over time. This guidance document is informative in nature, and the information contained should not be taken as normative.