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Nov 2004 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

GUEST COLUMN

Canadian forest industry has a good environmental story to tell

By: Avrim Lazar

For Canada’s forest products industry, maintaining a competitive edge in recent years has not been a simple task, as the industry’s competition has become increasingly global and technologically advanced. The task of remaining competitive promises to grow even more challenging over the years ahead as new suppliers and markets such as China and Russia begin to quickly develop their respective forest product industries into significant players on the global scene, and introduce lower cost product into the market. Certainly, if purchasing decisions were based solely on price, Canada would have a significant challenge on its hands in trying to produce wood products more cheaply than those countries where labour and fibre costs are far less than Canada’s.

Thankfully, the marketplace factors in some other key criteria when determining where to purchase products, of which price is only one consideration. For the longest time, remaining competitive was no more complicated than the forest industry version of “keeping up with the Jones” by investing in the newest skidder or the latest sawmill technology. To this end, the industry certainly did its share—the industry has invested a whopping $30 billion in technology since 1990. However, in recent years technological competitiveness has become only one part of the buying equation. As the industry’s customers, and their customers, become more environmentally aware each year, an increasingly important consideration is ensuring that the products they are buying come from suppliers who follow environmentally sustainable forestry practices.

Placing equal, if not greater, emphasis on how the products are produced bodes well for Canadian producers. Indeed, Canada has consistently shown itself to be at least as good as—if not better—than most countries in the world when it comes to sourcing fibre in an environmentally sustainable fashion. While the Canadian industry has done its fair share of investing in technology, the industry, and the country more broadly, have made equally significant investments in improved forestry practices. So much so that a key competitive advantage for the industry is now its well-earned and documented reputation as a leader in sustainable forest management and environmental stewardship.

Over the past decade, the industry has made significant improvements in reducing its environmental footprint through: effective elimination of dioxins and furans from effluent; removal of toxic substances from the manufacturing process; reduction of fossil fuel consumption; greater use of biomass fuels; and the implementation of third-party certification, to name a few. The Canadian forest products industry’s record is an enviable one. However, in keeping with the Canadian tradition of modesty, the story of the Canadian industry’s environmental record was in danger of becoming one of the country’s best-kept secrets.

Thankfully, an independent third-party report conducted by Benjamin Cashore, associate professor of Sustainable Forest Policy, and chair of the Program on Forest Certification at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in New Haven, Connecticut, stands to alter the status quo by conclusively demonstrating that Canada has the combination of stringent policies and active enforcement that places it among the world’s leaders in environmentally sensitive forestry.

The four hundred page study—which took over one year to conduct—provides a rigorous academic analysis and comparison of compliance and enforcement measures with respect to key forestry management practices including: riparian zone management, protection of species at risk, reforestation, annual allowable cuts and certification across 38 international jurisdictions that are active in the production and trade of forest products. The study concludes that Canada has: a world leading environmental protection system relating to forestry practices; a forestry policy and regulatory regime that is stringent and non-discretionary; enforcement measures that are some of the most advanced in the world. These are significant benchmarks against which the industry can be measured.

Customers of wood, pulp and paper around the world now have an important new information base to use in considering where they can buy products with confidence. Ultimately, the study shows that for those buyers who are attaching increasing importance to environmental considerations, Canada is among the best places in the world from which to buy products. All told, the industry has a very good story to tell, one that positions it well in an international marketplace that is placing an increasing emphasis on the sourcing of fibre from sustainable and environmentally sound suppliers. However, the industry is also the first to acknowledge that it cannot afford to rest on its laurels. More can and will be done to continue to provide customers with the assurance that when they buy Canadian they are buying the highest quality products from a source whose environmental stewardship is second to none.

Avrim Lazar is president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada.

 

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