What Does Sustainable Development Mean for a Forest Products Company?

Article excerpt

Canfor is an integrated producer of forest products headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. We produce solid wood from the bole of the tree, engineered wood and panels, and pulp and paper products from the residual materials. We have manufacturing facilities at sites in BC, Alberta and the north-western United States. These operations are primarily based on publicly owned forestlands in BC and Alberta where we harvest softwoods under a variety of tenure arrangements between provincial authorities and ourselves. Under these tenure arrangements we must harvest within precisely defined limits which are determined on the basis of ensuring a fully sustainable operation. We also have full responsibility for restoring every forest site harvested to a healthy free growing state. This reforestation is accomplished with native species only.

With the acquisition of Northwood Inc. in November 1999, Canfor became the largest producer of both softwood lumber and softwood pulp in Canada. The products which we produce possess unique properties which are highly valued in construction applications and by papermakers world-wide. These unique attributes arise directly from the combination of climatic conditions and species types, making forest products from BC highly prized industrial raw materials. When compared with other developed countries, commercial forestry in Canada is a relatively recent activity and, as a result, the majority of the harvest is still conducted in primary forests. This is especially so in the western part of the country where Canfor operates exclusively.

BACKGROUND

Forest products have many inherent advantages when viewed from an environmental perspective; they can be renewable, recyclable, biodegradable and carbon neutral. They have the potential to be among the few truly sustainable products, but they do also have some associated environmental burdens and we believe that it is important that these are fully understood and quantified. Many of our corporate activities are directed at understanding and mitigating these impacts and at communicating our progress in doing so.

In our mission statement, Canfor expresses a commitment to enhancing the forest resource, ensuring environmental stewardship and protecting human health and safety. We also commit to working closely with our customers. These commitments are not new; they date back to the founding of the company in 1938. This paper will deal with some of the more recent initiatives we have undertaken, but environmental initiatives are not a new "flavour of the month". For instance, in 1973 we were the first company in BC to employ a wildlife biologist in our forest operations. In 1991 we were the first company in North America to produce totally chlorine-free wood pulp (TCF). In the last decade of the nineties, we fully embraced the doctrine of Sustainable Development, and it is this topic that the balance of this paper will address.

The main centre of our forestry operations is the community of Prince George in central British Columbia. (See Figure 1 and Table 1) Situated in a central plateau between the coastal mountains and the Rockies, the area is home to slow growing forests of mostly white spruce and lodgepole pine. We have operations also on the BC coast and Vancouver Island which are situated in the coastal rainforest zone, with western red cedar, western hemlock and Douglas fir among the dominant species. All of these regions are parts of important ecosystems, and all of our forestry activities must be evaluated with consideration for the unique local nature of these ecosystems. Coastal temperate rainforests worldwide are viewed by many as an especially threatened ecosystem. As custodians of a quarter of the area remaining, British Columbians have a uniquely important conservation role to play. Canfor fully accepts this role.

WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT?

The definition of Sustainable Development is well known [1] dating back to the world commission on Environment and Development in 1987:

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. …