Repackaging the Forest Industry's Image

By Sullivan, Don | Canadian Dimension, July-August 1996 | Go to article overview

Repackaging the Forest Industry's Image

Sullivan, Don, Canadian Dimension

Canada's forest industry spin doctors and the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers have been burning the midnight oil these last 18 months to solve a growing image problem. Over the last 10 years, environmental groups have painted a rightfully disturbing portrait of the environmental degradation resulting from poor forestry practices. These high profile international campaigns have played a key role in reducing the dominance of Canada's forest products in the global marketplace.

To counter this image and restore international consumer confidence, the industry is developing a certification program through the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) - a private sector agency that pronounces various products as market worthy.

Scratch and win

In early February, the CSA circulated a draft document entitled A Sustainable Forest Management System: Guidance Document. It outlines a voluntary certification process the Canadian forest industry would need to go through before receiving the CSA stamp of approval.

Industry and governments are anticipating a favorable public reaction. However, this certification program operates much like a scratch and win ticket. Once you have rubbed the surface off hoping for the big payoff - what is revealed is - more often than not - a big disappointment.

Many in the environmental and other non-governmental communities are highly critical of this certification scheme. The fundamental deficiency of the CSA process is that it certifies a management regime, rather than the actual state of a forest. In other words, a Forest Management Licence Area - a geographically defined area in which a forest company has exclusive rights to harvest - can be certified as sustainable if the "right" steps are being followed, regardless of the condition of the ecosystem, wildlife, and indigenous communities.

As well, the program lacks mandatory measurable indicators of sustainable forest management. Forest companies need only consider criteria and indicators listed in the certification document, but need not apply them.

Along with these shortcomings, the CSA system is biased towards larger corporations which can afford the cost associated with this voluntary certification program. Smaller operations which exercise alternative logging methods, and as a result have less environmental impact, will not be in a position to finance the certification process. Further, the CSA program has failed to make Aboriginal treaty rights a requirement for certification.

The program's public participation requirements are disappointing. Typically, anyone who attempts public consultation with the forest industry walks away more frustrated than consulted. While the CSA process makes public participation a principle, it does not make provisions for the forest industry to address public concerns. Public participation in this process can be summed up as the ultimate expression of what is wrong with the entire CSA scheme: a facade for the continuation of current forest industry management practices.

An alternative

Most critics have thrown their support behind an alternative certification program lead by the Mexico-based Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a non-profit association founded in 1993 in Toronto. This association draws its membership from the social, environmental and economic sectors of both developed and developing countries. The general assembly of FSC members is divided into two voting chambers; the first consists of "economic interests" and holds 25 per cent of the votes, the second chamber consists of social and environmental organizations and represents 75 per cent of the votes. Power is shared equally between organizations from the developed and developing countries.

Like the CSA process, FSC certification is voluntary. But here the similarity stops. The FSC principles and criteria recognize the, need for compliance with laws and FSC principles: tenure, and use rights and responsibilities, indigenous people's rights, community relations and workers rights, full beneficial activities from the forest, environmental impacts, management plans, monitoring and assessments, and maintenance of the natural forests. …

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