What I Saw of the Revolution:reflections of a Corporate Environmental Manager in the 1990's B.C. Coastal Forest Industry

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

British Columbia is on the cutting edge globally when it comes to new approaches to the changing relationship between natural resources, the environment and people. You can tell it's the cutting edge by all the blood on it. And, as MacMillan Bloedel's experience indicates, when it's your own blood, it tends to concentrate the mind wonderfully.

What we choose to do with our forests here in BC, and how we choose to handle the increasingly complex biological and social relationships around them, will have enormous implications-for ourselves, and for people and forests in many other parts of the world.

This is the story of MacMillan Bloedel's struggle to adapt to change. The change we had to struggle to adapt to was, in general, a shift in social values in North America and Europe on environmental issues and, in particular, the globalization of concern about the world's remaining coastal temperate old-growth forests.

PREVIEW: THE TRUTH ABOUT TILE TRUTH

What exactly happened at MB? Well, imagine there's a movie version of the whole story about to be released, and what follows is the coming attractions preview.

We open in the fall of 1993 with a wide shot of a giant inflatable chain saw-big enough to reach up to the fifth floor of the Hotel Vancouver. Traffic is blocked on West Georgia while environmental activists hang a huge anti-clearcut banner from the side of a 23-storey building across the street. Other activists chain themselves to the desks of senior executives in MacMillan Bloedel's corporate headquarters.

Then we cut to a logging road in Clayoquot Sound, with the Mounties hauling away some 800 people in the biggest display of civil disobedience in Canadian history.

Next we hear a voice-over of colourful Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby reading his Globe and Mail column, in which he regularly characterizes MB as Canada's expression of the Evil Empire.

Then we go to the Hull headquarters of Environment Canada on a snowy winter's day in 1994. Into an elevator gets a 30-something woman. She is on her way up to the departmental boardroom to make a presentation to the senior bureaucrats on behalf of MacMillan Bloedel, having recently been hired as the company's government relations rep. Two female bureaucrats get onto the elevator. One says to the other, "What are you up to today?" The second woman says, "I'm meeting with the barbarians from MacMillan Bloedel."

The screen fades to black as we fast-forward to 1998. We close in on a shot of Greenpeace International's annual report. Amazingly, it shows MacMillan Bloedel's promise to end clearcutting as one of Greenpeace's top achievements of the year.

Next we cut to the cover of Tomorrow Magazine, a European business journal that covers the environment. It names MB the 1999 "Company of the Year."

Then we cut to an annual meeting of Home Depot vendors in 1999 and MB receiving an award for "Environmental Partner of the Year."

Then, finally, a close-up of forestry professor Jerry Franklin-the father of ecosystem-based "New Forestry" in the Pacific Northwest-as he returns from touring some of MB's new variable retention logging sites. Franklin looks into the camera and says, "I have to begin by complimenting MB. The learning here is obviously in an exponential phase--these [logging sites] are extraordinary. They were excellent. I have never seen any better retention harvest prescriptions and actual implementations."

Now this is a fairly stark contrast. And if all your information comes from the mass media or the internet, what appears to have happened is that in the space of a couple of hours in June 1998, MB was transformed in some Orwellian maneuver, no doubt involving a lot of smoke-and-mirrors, from a corporate environmental criminal into a corporate environmental hero.

But as someone who stood on both sides of this divide, I can certainly testify that although there was significant change at MB in the late 1990s when it came to environmental issues and policies, it occurred over a much longer period of time than most people think. …