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Final Cut: Ahead of the pack

August 31, 2015 - The Canadian forest products industry can proudly hold its head high when it comes to its environmental record. For a sector that was once an environmental offender, the past few decades represent a remarkable journey of progress.

August 31, 2015  By David Lindsay

Just look at the facts. Global statistics show that Canada’s forest product sector is by far the world leader in forest certification with 161 million hectares of certified forests — that’s 43 per cent of the global total or four times more than any other country. Certification means that companies follow progressive social and environmental forest management practices as assessed by an independent third body.  

Canada’s forest products industry is also getting the gold medal from international customers. A Leger international market survey completed last year reported that the Canadian forest sector had the best environmental reputation of any country in the world. A Yale University study has also concluded that Canada’s forestry regulations and laws are among the most stringent in the world.  

Of course, you will occasionally hear negative noise about the forest industry. For example, the recent reports about forest destruction and deforestation in Canada. Yet when you look at the facts of the matter, Canada actually has virtually zero deforestation—a negligible 0.02 per cent, per year. The public misconception stems from a misunderstanding of the word deforestation, which means the permanent conversion of forest land―in cases of urbanization, for example. However in Canada, tree cover loss is almost entirely temporary―forest land disturbed by fire or infestation grows back and harvested land must be regenerated by law.  The deforestation rate in Canada has actually been declining for the past 25 years with 64,000 hectares lost to deforestation in 1990 and just 45,800 hectares in 2012.  

Forest mills have also been reducing their environmental footprint. This includes a 70 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases since 1990. Air pollutants are down 52 per cent and water pollutants have been reduced by 70 per cent, since 2005. Toxins such as PCBs and dioxins have been eliminated; Canadian pulp and paper mills now produce enough green energy to power the entire city of Calgary. Canada also recycles about 70 per cent of its paper and cardboard, making Canada among the top global performers.  


Yet along with this dramatic headway, the industry knows it can and should do more. That’s why under Vision2020, the Canadian forest products industry is aiming to further reduce its environmental footprint by 35 per cent by the end of the decade. This is not just rhetoric. It is based firmly on measuring progress on 12 parameters, including greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water use, caribou action plans and forest management.

The forest products industry is also growing a greener tomorrow by using wood fibre in new innovative ways in everything from car parts to clothing to cosmetics to green chemicals that can replace products made from materials with a more intense carbon footprint. From this perspective, the move to taller wood frame buildings will also be a big plus from an environmental perspective.  

The Canadian sector has come a long way in both its practices and its approach. The sector realizes that being responsible stewards of the land is an essential part of its social license to operate. The industry has also recognized that it needs to work with partners including environmental groups to collectively find ways to integrate both economic and environmental values. This includes work under the groundbreaking Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. Forest companies in Canada have a new focus and ambition to follow progressive eco-friendly practices. That’s why Canadians should feel proud because when it comes to the environment, our forest products industry is an
example to the world.

David Lindsay is the president and CEO for Forest Products Association of Canada.


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