The Canadian forest products industry hugs its trees daily — it knows how to manage its forests sustainably. Yet it continues to suffer from public relations misfortunes of the past. The reason is painfully simple — they didn’t act, communicate or collaborate soon enough. So, some environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) stepped into the void. The tree is the symbol of our environmental worries; we love our trees. ENGOs, the most skilled public relations people in the sustainability field, know this. So, they used the tree to make indelible impressions across a broad swath of people to provoke the public into demanding change in forestry practices. Some ENGOs also targeted the Canadian forest industry specifically, and this has had a very real impact on sales, because misinformed global buyers are avoiding Canadian products for fear of ENGO retaliation. The reputational and bottom line damage is taking years of industry-wide educational efforts to reverse.
World sustainability leaders
Canada’s rate of deforestation is near zero, and we lead the world in forestry management and regulations. Since 1990, Canada’s foresters have partnered with ENGOs to radically redesign logging practices, investing billions of dollars to reengineer the industry, despite recessions, trade embargos, labour woes, foreign exchange risk and technology gaps. Are these some of the reasons your industry may have opted for the slow route to sustainability?
Globe 2008, a biannual conference and trade show on business and the environment, draws thousands of environmental professionals, tech companies and policy makers from around the world. In a forests and climate change session, I sat with several hundred sustainability-savvy people for an update from Canada’s forestry representatives, the World Wildlife Fund and other stakeholders. Despite the impressive progress report, the emotional questions put to the panel by attendees revealed the deeply held convictions of concerned people who don’t really understand how comprnsively this industry has stepped up to its responsibilities.
Yet, no other sector in the Canadian economy has done such an exemplary job of implementing sustainability measures, and they’ve made more commitments for the future. The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) represents companies responsible for 75 per cent of Canada’s working forests. FPAC’s
sustainability achievements include:
Forest protection: As of December 2006, 100 per cent of FPAC members are certified by one of three internationally recognized sustainable forest management standards: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC); the Canadian Standards Association (CSA); or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). This means if you or your company buys Canadian forest products, the product was sustainably harvested.
Carbon footprint: FPAC pulp and paper mills produce 44 per cent less greenhouse gases than in 1990, seven times the Kyoto targets. In partnership with WWF, FPAC has committed to industry-wide carbon neutrality by 2015, without purchasing offsets. Members intend to work closely with suppliers and customers to facilitate this change throughout their value chain.
Renewable energy: Biomass is already being used to meet almost 60 per cent of FPAC mills’ energy needs.
Get in front
Despite this kind of leadership, FPAC members still face public misconceptions from days gone by. This industry has a serious task ahead to change deeply held public views, regain its rightful position in the global marketplace for forest products, and establish the sustainable image of its brands and products.
Industries including automotive, food and beverage, high technology, and petroleum are watching the trust gap widen in their public domains. Business leaders must get in front of the sustainability mandate and tell the public what they are doing.