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GUEST COLUMN

Alberta's FORESTCARE Responds to New World Of Certification Awareness 

Garry Leithead

When we began working with our member companies in 1990 to develop the Alberta Forest Products Association's forest stewardship program known as FORESTCARE, we knew we were embarking on a revolutionary initiative. No other province had anything like FORESTCARE's Codes of Practice, with its focus on continual improvement of industry operating practices. And, as far as we knew, there wasn't anything like FORESTCARE being contemplated anywhere else in Canada. 

A lot has changed since then. What we could not have known back in 1990 was how customer demand for the verification of responsible forest stewardship practices -in the form of certification-would spread throughout North America and around the world. Today, forest certification programs using independent audits to verify sustainable forest management practices are increasingly defining responsible behaviour in forest industry operations. AFPA members can take pride in the fact that FORESTCARE was at the very forefront of this movement to forest certification. 

Since the inception of the program, there have been thousands of hours of work by committed members who've taken charge and built the process. With their help, the input of concerned Albertans and the contributions of a dedicated group of external stakeholders, we've built FORESTCARE from the ground up. So where is FORESTCARE today and how does it relate to other forest certification systems? As of this past February, FORESTCARE had 31 Committed Members. 

These companies account for more than 90 per cent of the annual timber harvest in Alberta. Committed Members conduct annual self assessments and implement action plans to raise performance levels. They also must conduct formal independent audits of their operations every three years. The success of FORESTCARE and the audits mean that 20 million hectares of Alberta's forests are now being managed under stringent FORESTCARE principles. This represents more than 90 per cent of the forested land base in Alberta. And perhaps equally important, the program has identified numerous opportunities for improvements in Alberta forest industry operations. 

There is no doubt that FORESTCARE is building public confidence in the industry's ability to ensure the sustainability of Alberta's forests and forest industry operations. As well, it is a program that addresses the need to continually assure Albertans that we are responsible managers of "their forests" and that we are continually improving our environmental performance in the woods and in our manufacturing facilities. AFPA members' involvement in the rigorous, repeatable and verifiable components of FORESTCARE has also given them the experience, capabilities and the documentation to quickly and effectively pursue other certification programs. 

AFPA members are well represented in the Canadian commitment to independent certification of forest industry operations. As of February, AFPA members Weldwood of Canada Limited (Hinton operations), Canadian Forest Products Ltd (Grande Prairie and Hines Creek), Weyerhaeuser Company Limited (Grande Prairie/Grande Cache) and Sunpine Forest Products Ltd are certified to the ISO 14001 environmental management system standard for forest operations. 

Members certified to the ISO standard for mill operations include Weldwood (Hinton operations), Millar Western Forest Products Ltd (Whitecourt Pulp Division) and Sunpine (Sundre/Strachan operations). AFPA members who are certified to Canada's national sustainable forest management system standard (CSA) CAN/CSA Z809 include Weldwood (Hinton), Sunpine and Canadian Forest Products (Grande Prairie). 

AFPA members are currently committed to pursuing external certification programs including ISO 14001 (mill operations), ISO 14001 (woods operations), CSA Z809 and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The forest industry has entered a "new world" of certification awareness and growing expectations for responsible forest industry practices. 

Our members realize that FORESTCARE will grow and be effective in this new world only if it continues to address the concerns and needs of Albertans, the forest products industry and its customers. To this end, AFPA and its members are now undertaking a major strategic review of the FORESTCARE program. This review process, scheduled to be completed by late this summer, is addressing a wide variety of issues, including potential linkages to other national and international certification programs. 

Certification's financial bottom line is recognition by customers and the public of the forest industry's responsible practices and acrosstheboard acceptance of independent certification programs (FORESTCARE, for example, has been recognized and accepted by Alberta stakeholders and two major US lumber retailers). But customer preference for specific forest certification systems, and the forest industry's reaction to it, could erode the financial bottom line. 

On the positive side, it's likely that customer preference for one or more certification systems means a single program will not take prominence and potentially become a "trade barrier" to companies who are not certified under it. However, to satisfy their different customers, many forest companies are certifying the same forest operation to more than one certification program. 

This results in duplication of effort and escalating costs. This is why the Canadian industry should strongly support the international movement toward mutual recognition, which establishes equivalencies between different certification systems. The issue is about free choice, for the industry and its customers, and for an effective method of evaluating responsible forest industry practice. _

Garry Leithead, a Registered Professional Forester, is Executive Director of the Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA)


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